‘Safety at all costs’: Richmond pastor to keep 10% capacity limit despite president’s call to reopen churches

Published: May. 23, 2020 at 9:18 AM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - In a Friday afternoon press briefing, President Trump identified houses of worship as essential calling on state Governors and churches to reopen immediately saying that he is directing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue out new guidelines for communities of faith to follow. But not all religious leaders are on board.

“Today I’m identifying houses of worship, churches synagogues and mosques as essential places that provide essential services,” Trump said. “Some governors have deemed liquor store and abortion clinics as essential, but have left out churches and other houses of worship that’s not right so I’m correcting this injustice.”

The president went as far as saying he would override any attempt by governors who refuse to open churches starting this weekend.

“These are places that keep our society together and keep our people united, many millions of Americans embrace worship as an essential part of life," Trump said. “In America we need more prayer not less.”

The president deeming churches essential is a sentiment that pastors like Ben Gutierrez of Grove Avenue Baptist Church say he appreciates.

"I think the president is right when he described the quality that churches and faith gatherings bring as bringing the society together and unifying people, Gutierrez said. “Congregating is essential not only to get what is taught but to get what is caught.”

But the Richmond pastor says his congregation will be moving on their own timetable regardless of what the president says.

“We’re going to only allow 10 percent of our congregants into this building this coming Sunday and the following Sunday,” Gutierrez said, “In the month of May we’re going to make sure we have a control group where we can practice and make sure we get all the safety measures in so we can ensure the safety of all congregants coming Sunday.”

Gutierrez’s decision to only open his Church to 10 percent of its capacity comes only a week after Governor Ralph Northam allowed parts of the commonwealth to enter into phase one of reopening which would have allowed Grove Avenue Baptist to open it’s doors to 50 percent of its congregation.

As the CDC works on new guidelines for places of worship after the presidents latest call to action, Gutierrez says his church is perfecting the measured steps they’ve already taken implementing sign up sheets to attend service and limiting the capacity of their 1000-seat sanctuary to just 100 people, with most of them being essential workers and choir members who help make service possible.

Gutierrez says Grove Avenue will continue to utilize their virtual capacities to include members of the congregation who can’t physically be at the church.

“We’ve been maintaining our ministry and our mission through virtual means and that’s been very valuable, but those won’t go away,” said Gutierrez. “We need to temper and tether our excitement to common sense and to make sure we do things wisely and maintain the best testimony for our community. Even during this new season, we’re encouraging safety at all costs”

While the president’s call is only confirmation for what Gutierrez has always known about houses of worship he is relying on a higher power and the faith put in him by his congregation to see grove through this pandemic in God’s time."

The president’s announcement encouraged I think all of us in ministry we have prayed for this moment yet just because we’re encouraged to gather we need to do it safely.

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