Butler County churches urged to follow precautions for Easter services

As the Easter and Passover seasons are upon Butler County communities, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said Wednesday that he does not plan to forcibly shut down churches and other religious spaces during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Let me just be very direct and blunt. We’re not going to interfere with your First Amendment rights to practice your religion,” DeWine said. “But I don’t know any religion that teaches that you should do things that endanger — seriously endanger — other people. I don’t know any religion that says that, ‘It’s just OK not to worry about your neighbor, it’s OK not to worry about other people.’”

DeWine, a practicing Catholic, said he can almost guarantee there will be someone carrying COVID-19 at any services held in the state, as any gathering of that sort at this point is dangerous.

“When we’re dealing with this virus, we know it’s all about not spreading it,” DeWine said. “And when people come together in a large group, at this stage of how far along we are in Ohio, we can almost guarantee you, that in a church, even not a very large church, there will be people who would test positive … And you’re really playing with the lives of your congregation.”

The Ohio’s stay-at-home order exempts religious institutions and worship services.

Also on Wednesday, the Butler County General Health Department issued suggestions for congregations wanting to have Easter services in their parking lots. They include:

• Attendees should stay in the car in which they arrived in for the entire service.

• Families that live together may be in the same car. No other persons should join in a car with another family, or with persons they do not live with .

• No giving out of individual pieces of candy or any other items to attendees.

• Six-foot distances between cars must be maintained.

• Broadcast the service via car radio so members can stay in their cars with the windows up.

• Limit the number of attendees by promoting drive-in services only to current members.

• Encourage sick members to stay home.

• Do not allow cars to idle during the service.

• To avoid the likelihood of spreading the virus from person to person, do not serve communion.

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The health district recommends anyone who chooses to attend an in-person service should be wearing a homemade cloth mask.

The health department does not have the authority to order any churches to actually cease the operations or services, because worship services and religious institutions are exempted from the stay-at-home order.

Solid Rock Church, which has been criticized for continuing to have worship services, said earlier this week it is taking all necessary precautions to ensure the health and safety of anyone who comes to the church.

“Solid Rock Church has let us know of sanitation activities they have conducted, which is great, but they are still exceeding the recommendation to gather only in groups of 10 or less,” said Jennifer Bailer, commissioner of the Butler County General Health District. “We recommend that they refrain from holding in-person services and follow the Ohio Department of Health recommendations in order to keep their congregation safe from COVID-19.”

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“We agree that we must all comply with Governor DeWine’s administrative order,” the church said on its website. “We have scaled back our normal services; and there are not large numbers of worshipers in the facility, but we are open and continuing to practice and sustain our faith.”

Church officials said their facility is large enough that we are able to easily ensure that everyone who is physically in the facility is practicing the physical distancing; we are providing additional cleaning and hand sanitizing stations; and we are holding some services outside to allow for more distance.

The church has canceled youth activities and encouraging older members to stay home and access services electronically. They said worshippers are not shaking hands or greeting members with hugs. There is no collection or communion in a normal sense, just prayer and worship, church officials said. The church said its using this time to educate and inform everyone on the best practices.

“We can assure everyone that the health and well-being of our members, staff and community is critical and the top priority. Yet after prayer and spiritual reflection, we made the decision not to close our church for those who need it because right now faith communities play a vital role for our members and especially the most vulnerable. We are meeting that need but doing so in a way to ensure that it does not put people in harm’s way,” the church said.

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