'It's too soon': North Texas clergy concerned about relaxed guidelines for churches

Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton issued new guidance to religious organizations this week.

The governor issued an executive order which defined churches, congregations and houses of worship as essential services That concerned some North Texas clergy.

The clergy is concerned any gathering in a house of worship right now would only increase the risk of infection spread, even with social distancing during the worship service. They want the state's leaders to know that.

Pastor Freddie Haynes is one of more than a dozen faith leaders conference calling with Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins Wednesday concerned about the governor and attorney general's newest guidance easing restrictions on worship.

“It's morally irresponsible and reckless to move forward at this time,” Haynes said.

“Being on the conference call, I think it’s too soon for us to be gathering together again,” said Pastor T.L. Brown with New Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church.

Bishop Edward Burns with the Catholic Diocese if Dallas, Bishop Michael McKee with the North Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church, Reverend Doctor Jeff Warren with Park Cities Baptist Church and George Mason with Wilshire Baptist Church were all also on the call.

The group drafted a letter to the governor in part that says: “We do not want to move too fast.” The clergy emphasized "health over wealth."

The Catholic Diocese is concerned about coming back to soon, knowing the faithful will want Communion and there are health worries about sharing the cup.

“Yes, we have a constitutional right to gather and the biblical mandate from Hebrews 10 to gather,” said Pastor Shea Sumlin. “But we have a higher mandate in Matthew 22 to love our neighbor. And I think that’s our concern right now. How can we first love the community around us and the members that we have been entrusted to shepherd?”

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“We're going to worship by continuing in reflection at home, continuing to pray, continuing to draw from that deep place of appreciating God's blessings of loving our neighbor,” said Imam Omar Suleiman with the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research.

“Until there’s a vaccine, we've got to operate with social distancing and change our way of being,” said Pastor Richie Butler with Saint Paul United Methodist Church.

Pastor Richie Butler is part of the We Need to Survive Campaign, and the other faith leaders say the charge is to protect the flock.

“I don't want to look up a year and a half from now and we see some devastating numbers around lives,” he said.

With shelter in place orders now extended until May 15, most expect it will be June before houses of worship reopen. They will likely have scattered seating in all places and multiple services in most, with social distancing now part of how ministry will be done.