BOSTON (CBS) – Churches across Massachusetts that have been closed for weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic want to reopen soon.
A group of 260 pastors sent a letter to Governor Charlie Baker Thursday, requesting that they be labeled as essential and included in the first phase of re-opening plans on May 18th.
"We have seen how marijuana dispensaries, liquor stores and abortion clinics have all been deemed "essential," but churches and other places of worship have not," the pastors wrote.
In the letter, they noted they're prepared to operate under the proper guidelines.
"We are capable of following the guidelines for social distancing recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, just as other businesses Massachusetts has deemed essential. We are able to take the same precautions that their staff and customers have taken," they wrote.
"Please do not underestimate or dismiss the abilities of the church. Many of us have members who are doctors and nurses. We will listen to their expert advice as well, and they will help us be models of safety."
The pastors said they're disappointed that even though there are 8,000 churches in Massachusetts they still have "no representation on the Reopening Advisory Board."
A group of church leaders are set to meet with the advisory board Saturday, and Gov. Charlie Baker said he's coming up with a long-term plan for church reopenings.
Baker told reporters Friday, "I said from the beginning that one of the most difficult elements of that gathering order, with limited gatherings to 10 or less, was the impact that had on people's ability to practice their faith. But that said, there's plenty of evidence from around the world that in places where people didn't do that, religious gatherings became a really big hotbed and a hotspot of outbreak."
He added, "Whatever happens here, whenever that happens, we want it to be something that is sustainable over time."
Rev. James Hopkins of the First Lutheran Church of Boston is one of the church leaders who signed the letter. He has been holding services online.
"Since the shutdown went into place we have been obeying the government order," he said.
Hopkins said that when the church does reopen, that social distancing will be enforced and they'll limit the amount of people at services.
"We do understand that precautions need to be taken, and we're gonna take them," he said. "We're gonna do it thoughtfully and faithfully."
The Archdiocese of Boston, which was not part of the letter, said in a statement Friday it "remains committed to working with public officials on the timing and conditions of reopening churches for Masses."
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh also said, "church is a source of comfort for a lot of people...I would say the majority of the clergy do not want to open their house of worship right now because of the risk of their congregation getting sick."
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