NC churches hold indoor services for 1st time in months on Sunday

Johnston County News

SMITHFIELD, N.C. (WNCN) — Churches were allowed to hold indoor services on Sunday for the first time in months in North Carolina.

Religious leaders filed a lawsuit Thursday that claimed Governor Roy Cooper’s COVID-19 executive order violates their constitutional rights.

A judge heard the case Friday afternoon and an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order against Cooper’s executive order was granted Saturday afternoon.

On Sunday, doors opened to worshipers at New Life Baptist Church in Smithfield. Pastor Steve Grice said about 25 people came.

“They all spread out. They had plenty of room. The families sat together, but they were skipping pews,” said Grice.

Grice said they made sure everyone socially distanced. The church also provided hand sanitizer and masks.

“We’re not being stupid, we’re not being careless, we’re not being reckless, but we’re not going to live in fear,” said Grice.

He’s been planning to hold indoor services since Johnston County’s sheriff was one of several to say he wouldn’t enforce the governor’s order against them.

Grice said he has concerns with the state’s order in regard to religious freedom and government overreach.

“It’s not fair. Treat us like everybody. If you’re letting retail stores open with limited capacity, we could safely do that too,” said Grice.

He said his job is also done more effectively in person.

“If we’re inside and I can look at you face-to-face and I can look in your eyes, I can see if something is going on. I can tell if you’re happy, if you’re sad, if you’re depressed. We just have that,” said Grice.

Some churches, like Fellowship Raleigh, are still holding off on indoor services.

“We’re concerned about what the Governor is saying, but we’re just as concerned about the coronavirus,” said Pastor Matt Schoolfield with Fellowship Raleigh. “We’re going to have online services, an outdoor service next week and we’re going to keep watching and be patient. Our church isn’t closed. Our church is still open; We’re just not having these big gatherings of people.”

Cooper’s office released the following statement as a response to Saturday’s court ruling:

“We don’t want indoor meetings to become hotspots for the virus and our health experts continue to warn that large groups sitting together inside for long periods of time are much more likely to cause the spread of COVID-19. While our office disagrees with the decision, we will not appeal, but instead urge houses of worship and their leaders to voluntarily follow public health guidance to keep their members safe.”

The full court case for the lawsuit will be heard at the end of the month.

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