North Texas churches cautious about holding in-person services as COVID-19 restrictions are being lifted

David Sentendrey

North Texas churches cautious about holding in-person services as COVID-19 restrictions are being lifted

This week marked the first Sunday since the state of Texas clarified that houses of worship are essential. But many faith leaders remained cautious about reopening right now.

This week marked the first Sunday since the state of Texas clarified that houses of worship are essential.

But many faith leaders remained cautious about reopening right now.

Governor Greg Abbott said churches are essential, but at the same time, he’s recommending they follow CDC guidelines.

Many faith leaders are saying they’ll have their eyes and ears on the governor’s upcoming announcement on Monday.

RELATED: Coronavirus coverage

It’s a different sort of worship for churchgoers these days.

Open Door Church hosted a service in the parking lot of Texas Health Huguley Hospital in Burleson.

Still, Janelle Kary and her family are ready for things to return to normal.

“We’ve been obviously quarantined a bit longer than most people because the baby was sick right before quarantine happened, so we had to stay in,” she said.

While a parking lot service gave them a sense of normalcy, church leaders in North Texas are waiting to hear what Gov. Abbott has to say on Monday.

“We don’t need a building to worship, but I really believe that’s fixing to come back,” Open Door Church Executive Pastor Jerry Sellers said.

“We’re anxious to get back as soon as it’s safe to do so. Not one moment sooner, not one moment later than that,” First Baptist Church Dallas Senior Pastor Dr. Robert Jeffress said

Jeffress said the governor consulted him last week.

“We’ll certainly look at what the governor says, we’ll continue to monitor what the CDC says and we’ll be interested in what the county says, as well, but in the end, we’re going to do what’s safest for our members and our community,” he said.

He doesn’t expect his church, with more than 14,000 members, to open up as soon as others.

“We probably wouldn’t even open up in phase 1 or phase 2. It probably doesn’t make any sense for us to open up with 10 or even 100,” he added. “But it all depends on the numbers. The number of cases need to go down. And we recognize that Dallas County is different than other counties in Texas, and that’s why we’re probably most inclined to see what Dallas County says.”

Dallas Diocese Bishop Edward Burns said that following the governor’s announcement, he’ll be meeting with his priest council on Tuesday.

“I need to rely on medical experts. I need to rely on what the officials are saying,” he said.

They’ll take in suggestions from local officials and medical experts before making a decision on Wednesday on how to move forward. Dallas County’s shelter-in-place order is in effect until at least May 15.

“I’ve got to recognize this is where we are,” Burns added.

“And look, I greatly treasure the First Amendment, but people need to understand that the coronavirus has no respect for the First Amendment. It attacks people in malls, as well as in churches, and that’s why I believe restrictions for churches should not be any stricter, nor should they be any more lenient than they are for other avenues in our city,” Jeffress said.

Worship is a way of life for many North Texans, and while Sunday’s parking lot service was refreshing for the Kary family, they’re hoping services go back to how they used to be soon.

“But we needed that connection. I just needed to connect with my church family,” Kary said.

Last week, more than a dozen faith leaders, collectively, sent a letter to the governor, expressing concern that any gathering in a house of worship would only increase the risk of infection spread.

RELATED: Interactive map of Texas COVID-19 cases


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