DALLAS - Organizations across North Texas are re-thinking their plans to host large gatherings of people.
That now includes regular weekend worship services.
Some of the largest churches across the Metroplex and the Diocese of Dallas are saying it is not yet time to cancel their services.
But they are advising churchgoers to stay home if they are sick, elderly, have health conditions, or care for someone who does.
From mega Baptist churches.
“We're not going to shut down with the current information we have,” said Prestonwood Baptist Pastor Jack Graham.
“How do we avoid what I call the pandemic panic?” said Pastor Robert Jeffress, with First Baptist Dallas.
To the Catholic Diocese of Dallas.
“Eliminated sign of peace handshake, sharing of chalice,” said Bishop Greg Kelly, with theDioceses Of Dallas.
Faced with a situation they never encountered before, faith leaders in North Texas are taking precautions.
“Like not shaking hands. We are making sure to disinfect the children's toys every day,” Pastor Jeffress added.
But many are moving ahead with services this weekend.
“I know some people are saying, ‘Well, the NBA is cancelling games. Why don't you cancel church services?’ What we do is more important that what the NBA is doing. NBA is entertainment. Optional. Worship is essential,” Pastor Jeffress explained.
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But faith leaders also want the faithful to know it is also okay to stay home, if they are vulnerable to the virus.
Bishop Edward Burns issued a decree granting a rare release from the obligation to attend mass for people who are over 60, have compromised immune systems, or care for someone who does.
“Bishop decree wants to put people at peace and let them know they are not committing a sin by not coming to mass. It really is important for them not to come to pass and put themselves or others endanger,” Bishop Kelly said.
Other changes at the diocese include suspending communion, for now.
But Pastor Jeffress said for people who are healthy, gathering together is an important part of worship.
“I heard the archbishop last week describe the difference between in-person and online services. He said the difference between sitting by an open fire and watching a fire on television,” he explained.
Thursday afternoon First United Methodist Church of Dallas announced it is cancelling Sunday services.
Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson has not yet made any recommendations to faith leaders about whether to continue to hold services or not.
A clergy member of Trinity Episcopal Church in Fort Worth was the first presumptive positive case of COVID-19 coronavirus in Tarrant County.
Trinity Episcopal has closed the church building and offices to the public, and Sunday’s services have been canceled, along with the Lenten program on Wednesday. It’s not yet known when the building will be reopened.