CEDAR RAPIDS — Members of the congregation at First Assembly of God in Cedar Rapids are working together, giving away 35,000 pounds of groceries Wednesday, even as they continue to worship separately on Sundays despite leeway on religious services statewide granted this week by Gov. Kim Reynolds.
Thanks to “generous giving” from its parishioners, the church donated over $35,000 and partnered with Convoy of Hope, a global disaster relief organization, to give away essential grocery items Wednesday to about 1,000 people.
Leaders at First Assembly of God have chosen to keep worshipping remotely during the coronavirus pandemic and are following large gathering guidelines — reconvening for Sunday services only when they can have 25 percent occupancy in the sanctuary.
“We know many people will not, and many of our older adults should not, attend until this virus is under control. Let us keep praying and seeking God’s wisdom,” Pastor Brian Pingel said.
Pingel said to continue social distancing once they do gather for in-person Sunday services, they will remove rows from the sanctuary to spread out and will not offer children’s ministry until they can worship again at full capacity.
At a news conference Wednesday, Reynolds said it’s a “wonderful thing” for Iowans to be able to make a decision whether to resume religious services — but still under caveats — for themselves.
Under Reynold’s new proclamation issued earlier this week, spiritual and religious gatherings are no longer prohibited. But churches, synagogues and other religious organizations should ensure social distancing, increase hygiene practices and other health measures to reduce the risk of transmission of coronavirus.
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Weddings and funerals are not covered by the new proclamation and still can have no more than 10 people.
“Isn’t it great? Iowans are going to decide, churches are going to decide — it’s not a mandate, it’s an option,” she said. “We have some that are going to continue to stay closed, and that’s wonderful because they’ve provided opportunities to their members for online services. We have some services in smaller communities that have smaller congregations — they’re going to social distance, they’re going to make accommodations so that their congregations feel safe about coming.”
Reynolds said she will continue to attend church online at Lutheran Church of Hope in West Des Moines, which has decided to continue online services only.
Many religious leaders across Iowa questioned the governor’s decision to permit n-person religious gatherings even under the social distancing guidelines, and have asked churches to continue to meet virtually at least for now.
Denominational leaders from 21 churches in Iowa released a joint statement saying they are “united in our concern” over Reynolds’ declaration.
“We join together in asking congregations and members across the state to take faithful action by refraining from in-person religious gatherings, including worship,” the statement said.
Catholic bishops from Dubuque, Sioux City, Davenport and Des Moines released a joint statement Tuesday, saying suspension of Sunday Mass should continue until after the peak of COVID-19 passes.
“Without an effective vaccine or widespread testing and contact data that justifies a change in course, we simply are not at a place where we can resume our previous prayer practices,” the Iowa bishops stated.
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Bishop Laurie Haller of the Iowa Conference of the United Methodist Church, in a statement she released this week, is encouraging all United Methodist churches in Iowa to refrain from in-person worship until at least June 1.
The Rev. Sherrie Ilg, at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Cedar Rapids, said the church’s first priority is to keep everyone physically safe.
“When we look at communities of faith, we know we are called to love God and love our neighbor,” Ilg said. “I would have concerns if practices would be bringing people together that would not represent loving our neighbor. We are separated and we wear face masks because we love one another. There is some sacrifice we are called to do out of love for one another.”
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