AUSTIN, Texas — As Passover begins and Easter weekend approaches, Austin-Travis County leaders don’t want churches to take any chances for spreading coronavirus.
“This is Holy Week for a lot of us, and I know that's stressful for people,” said Dr. Mark Escott, Austin-Travis County's Interim Public Health Authority. “Easter Sunday is going to be much different than it normally is, but it needs to be different. It is dangerous for us to go back to churches right now.”
The City is urging churches to hold services online, but under Gov. Greg Abbott’s March 31 executive order, Texas churches are considered essential services, meaning they can stay open.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued guidance on April 1, instructing churches to conduct services remotely if possible.
“It's a holiday that many people actually acknowledge and go out and do fun things and especially church – they really want to go into to the building, the physical building, to feel the presence of the spirit,” said Deborah Duncan, the City of Austin’s Faith-Based Task Force leader. “We want you to remember that your health is our community's wealth, and we are only as strong as we are together.”
Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell said Wednesday it’ll be the first time in 40 years that he doesn’t attend church in person on Easter.
“My wife and I will be going to church Sunday,” Gravell said. “We'll be sitting together in front of our computer watching our worship service online.”
The warnings come as some churches across the country have ignored guidance from local governments and, in some cases, turned into a deadly breeding ground for COVID-19.
“We don't want to be a hindrance to the city,” said Brad Wilkinson, the executive pastor at Christian Life Church in South Austin. “The Bible instructs us – we pray for our government regularly and so, when they issue an order and say, ‘Hey, this is what's going be best for you health-wise,’ I trust them. And that's not my area of expertise.”
The question of life or death quickly made the church's leaders turn worship services into a virtual experience for its thousands of members.
“We're a part of this city and we love Austin, Texas,” Wilkinson said. “This is who we are. And these are the people that we're trying to reach and spread the gospel to, and so we want to be fantastic citizens.”
Christian Life plans to keep holding services online as long as necessary. And even though it’s an extra holy time right now, they said their faith won’t be affected by a global pandemic.
“I don't think God is limited to a building,” Wilkinson said. “That's the beautiful thing, is that I think people can receive what they need from God sitting on their couch or sitting around their dinner table with their families.”
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