MONROE, Ohio — In response to the numerous complaints about Solid Rock Church continuing to hold worship services on Sunday and Wednesday, Monroe Mayor Jason Frentzel has written to the pastors to “implore” them to reconsider holding in-person services for the protection of their members and the community, the Journal-News reports.
In the letter sent Thursday, Frentzel told Pastors Darlene Bishop and Lawrence Bishop II that the city has received several complaints from residents and from surrounding communities about the continuation of their worship services during the coronavirus pandemic.
“While I understand that you have the right to assemble, I also understand the community’s concerns with having such a large gathering coming together in this current environment,” Frentzel wrote. “I implore you to please reconsider your choice to continue to offer in person services to your worshipers.”
Frentzel acknowledged the church was not under the same restrictions from the state as other organizations. He asked the church, if it continues to hold in-person services, to:
• Encourage at-risk worshipers to stay home and view services online.
• Ask them how they are feeling and if they have had any symptoms of COVID-19.
• Take the temperature of people before allowing them to enter; if they are running a fever of 100.4 or higher, ask them to view services from home.
• Ask worshipers to practice social distancing by maintaining a 6-foot distance from others while attending services.
• Sanitize all surfaces before and after every service.
Frentzel also encouraged the pastors to communicate with other religious institutions to see what they are doing.
“Please remember that bringing together large numbers of people only increases the pace at which this virus spreads,” Frentzel said. “If this spreads too quickly, it will overrun our healthcare facilities and has the potential to kill a larger amount of people. During this pandemic I applaud you for continuing your services; however, please reconsider your choice to offer in-person services and look at the other creative steps that religious institutions throughout our country have taken.”
On Wednesday, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine fielded two questions about churches and businesses that continue to operate or are not following state guidelines such as social distancing. He said the government has to take action when actions, even happening in private lives, endanger others.
“Any pastor who brings people together in close proximity to each other, a large group of people, is making a huge mistake,” DeWine said. “It is not a Christian thing to do. It is not in the Judeo-Christian tradition to hurt people.”
He noted that many other faiths and congregations have canceled their in-person services and have gone to remote or virtual services during the pandemic.
On Thursday, the Catholic Conference of Ohio, representing the six Roman Catholic dioceses in Ohio, extended the suspension of publicly celebrated Masses and liturgies through May 3.
Solid Rock issued a statement saying, “As Christians we are charged by Jesus Christ to obey the laws of our land. Therefore, if the laws of our nation should ever change with respect to our First Amendment right to assemble, thereby restricting us from having our church doors open, we will willingly comply.
“If there has ever been a time in the history of our world when we all need God’s help, it is now. For that reason, we believe that the doors of Solid Rock Church should remain open. It is in these times of crisis that the church should play a critical role as a place of refuge … A place where anyone can come to pray, to worship, and to find healing and hope.”
Butler County Health Commissioner Jennifer Bailer she at a news conference Friday that she met with an attorney from Solid Rock Church who said while the churchgoers are attending services, they are practicing social distancing. The attorney also said the church is also cleaning before and after services as well as readily offering hand sanitizer.
"Churches are permitted to continue meeting," Bailer said. "They are exceeding the governor's limit of ten people at a meeting... and they have an exemption granted by the governor to continue to do that."
The Journal-News is a media partner of WCPO 9 News.