Practicing religion is more than going to church

Practicing religion is more than going to church
Protesters wave signs and honk their horns near the Virginia State Capitol, during a "Reopen Virginia Rally" in Richmond, Va., April 22, 2020. (Source: Parker Michels-Boyce for the Virginia Mercury)

Folks who criticized Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam for limiting the size of church services the past several weeks – including opportunists in the Trump administration – acted as if the guv were denying residents their right to practice religion.

It’s an odd stance since the regulations, in the face of this awful novel coronavirus pandemic, were intended to keep people alive. One of Northam’s recent executive orders banned gatherings of more than 10 people at particular establishments; this was unfortunate because the March edict was just days before Easter and Passover.

Yet given the very real threat of transmission of the novel coronavirus in close quarters, the regulation was necessary. Besides, haven’t Christians heard of the biblical passage in Matthew, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them”?

The religious edifice is a big part of the service. It’s not the only part.

I’ve spent the past several Sundays watching Mass on Facebook Live. It’s not the same as being in the pews of my parish church, of course, but I understand the restrictions. We try to adapt – instead of plunging headlong into preventable danger.

I note all of this as a prelude to the phased easing of restrictions taking place in the commonwealth Friday, including greater access to faith services this weekend. Among the requirements: Places of worship must limit occupancy to 50 percent, individuals must stay at least 6 feet apart, and cleaning and disinfecting of frequently used services must be done before and after services.

The state witnessed a kerfuffle extending beyond its borders when Lighthouse Fellowship Church, on the Eastern Shore, challenged a summons it received for letting 16 people attend services on Palm Sunday.

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The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.