A group of nearly 200 pastors have signed a letter sent to Gov. Ralph Northam (D), urging him to allow churches to hold gatherings again.
The group, whose members submitted the letter May 4, thanked the governor for his “labors” in helping quell the spread of the novel coronavirus, for which there is presently no vaccination, adding they have been praying for him and his administration.
“COVID-19 has taken a grave toll on the health of the commonwealth,” the letter reads in part. “Many of our fellow Virginians have suffered the physical effects of the coronavirus, and many more have experienced fear, hopelessness, loneliness, and despair during this dark time. This spiritual suffering is among the very real harms from the pandemic.”
They went on to argue the church is a “hospital for the spiritually sick,” adding the closure of sanctuaries across the state have “exacerbated the sense of sorrow, isolation, and fear felt by so many citizens across the commonwealth.”
The letter from Christian pastors comes the same week as a study showing the pandemic responses across the country could lead to 75,000 “deaths of despair” from suicide and drug and alcohol abuse.
Dr. Rob Pochek, pastor of First Baptist Church in Charlottesville, told WCAV-TV, “If folks can safely go to Walmart and they can safely go to Lowe’s and they can safely stand in line outside Sam’s Club, then they can certainly gather together in worship of the Lord Jesus Christ, in a place where we will safely and seriously adhere to social distancing guidelines.”
Pochek explained his church is measuring the pews to ensure congregants would be appropriately spaced out from one another and is marking off areas where they believe people might congregate.
In addition, he is encouraging all churchgoers to wear masks when they return to the sanctuary for Sunday morning services and is asking those in at-risk communities to continue streaming the worship service from home.
In an announcement Friday, Northam shared some details about Phase 1 of reopening, which Virginia is slated to begin May 15.
Under the first part of the work to restore normalcy in Virginia, churches will be permitted to hold weekly services at 50% capacity.