ATLANTA - Some religious organizations in Georgia say they are hesitant to begin holding in-person services, despite Gov. Brian Kemp’s directive on Monday.
Kemps order allows for houses of worship to once again hold in-person services in the state if the facilities abide by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s social-distancing guidelines.
Since about mid-March and including Easter Sunday, many churches have been streaming services online to continue to connect to their congregations. Since the governor’s announcement Monday, many have said the online services will be the only way they continue for now.
Bishop Reginald Jackson with the African Methodist Episcopal Church told FOX 5 that evening streaming church services for the near future is simply fine and it lessens the chance of worshippers spreading or contracting the coronavirus.
“I think we ought to wait until we've reached our peak and begin to flatten the curve then I think it will be appropriate for people to gather together,” Bishop Jackson said.
The bishop oversees more than 500 churches in the state of Georgia. He called the governor’s plan, that includes the reopening of churches, the wrong move.
“We have about 520 AME churches in Georgia, so I sent a message to all of them - not to gather in their churches on Sunday, but to continue streaming or video,” the bishop said.
Most members of the AME are people of color.
“African Americans are disproportionately higher in terms of infection than anybody else and so I don't think we should jeopardize ourselves anymore by congregating,” Bishop Jackson said.
The Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta announced it would also keep services online until health experts advise such large gatherings would be “reasonably safe.”
Bishop Robert C. Wright, who was a vocal supporter of the governor’s shelter in place order when it was issued, made the announcement during an online meeting Wednesday.
“In due course and only when I am advised by health and safety professionals that it is reasonably safe, will I extend the possibility of in-person worship for our Diocese,” the bishop wrote the leaders of 117 churches across middle and north Georgia.
Those churches have been holding online services since March and each streaming service originating from the individual church clergy’s residences to minimize their potential exposure to COVID-19
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta has yet to make an official announcement about their decision. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops reportedly have been discussing the reopening of churches.
On the Archdiocese's Facebook page, the church stated:
"Friends, the bishops are working on a plan- it may take a couple of days to get all the guidance and build out what the parameters are- but they are working on it!"
The archdiocese already said its installation of the new archbishop, the Most Reverend Gregory John Hartmaye, would be held in private this May due to the pandemic.
The Archdiocese of Atlanta includes 69 counties in north Georgia with 103 parishes and 18 schools.
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Georgia mosques also said they would remain closed. This as the holy month of Ramadan, a time of fasting and communal prayer, begins at sunset on Thursday. The Georgia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Georgia), the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), Muslims of the United States of America (MOUSA), and Majlis Ash-Shura made the announcement on Wednesday.
Wednesday, CAIR-Georgia said the allowance of gatherings contradicts basic Islamic theology that teaches the “highest objective is to protect and preserve life,” and that “avoiding harm takes precedence over acquiring benefit.”
In a statement, CAIR-Georgia Executive Director Abdullah Jaber said:
"During the holy month of Ramadan, Georgia Muslims normally gather at houses of worship to perform extra prayers to God, host community dinners and engage in other acts of devotion. However, Georgia Muslims also recognize that protecting human life is more important than visiting our houses of worship.
"Based on medical and scientific advice, we firmly believe that re-opening houses of worship right now would pose a danger to the public. Major mosques across Georgia, therefore, plan to remain closed until medical and scientific experts confirm that it is safe for us to return to houses of worship."
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Meanwhile, Bishop Jackson says turning to social media to hold services is exactly what needs to happen for now.
“When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness and the Devil said to him alright and jump off and see if God will send his angels to bail you out, you shouldn't put God to a foolish test,” the bishop offered, calling on other faith leaders to hold off hosting in-person services.
Again, while the governor has called for churches to be able to reopen, he cautioned all houses of worship to continue to implement an effective social-distancing plan.