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Worcester Pastor Defends Holding Church Service Despite Coronavirus Order

WORCESTER (CBS) – A Worcester church is scheduled to hold services Wednesday night after violating the state's ban on group gatherings over the weekend. The church has been warned by the city that it is in violation of Gov. Charlie Baker's coronavirus order.

Pastor Kris Casey led services at Adams Square Baptist Church on Sunday.

According to the Worcester Telegram, 56 people attended. That is significantly higher than the 10 allowed in the state order that now runs through May 18.

The city told Casey in a letter, "Self-exempting and disregarding this order puts the health of both parishioners and the wider public at risk."

Casey said they observed social distancing requirements.

Worcester Police said in a statement to WBZ-TV they are "looking for compliance" from the church.

"Social distancing measures are in place to keep communities safe," police said. "We have communicated with the Pastor about resources and guidelines to help the congregation adhere to social distancing in an effort to keep its members and the extended community safe. We are looking for compliance."

Pastor Kris Casey
Pastor Kris Casey led services at Adams Square Baptist Church on Sunday. (Image Credit: Adams Square Baptist Church)

In a letter to state officials before holding services, Casey argued that the order violates Constitutional rights and added, "I notice that liquor stores and garden centers for example are designated as essential services, but that religious services of 10 or more people are not."

The city of Worcester has warned the church that they are in violation of the state order. After a warning is issued, a second offense could end up in a $300 fine. Further offenses could lead to a $500 fine and possibly criminal charges.

The governor was asked about the church at his daily news conference Wednesday.

"We believe it's most appropriately dealt with at the local level. I know the city of Worcester has concerns about this, appropriate concerns, and I anticipate that they'll be the ones who will deal with the church on that," Baker said.

On Tuesday, Baker said denying houses of worship the opportunity to practice is "right up there on our list of things that were very dismaying with respect to putting this order in in the first place."

The governor noted that he has spoken in empty houses of worship on a live stream during the pandemic, and understands it isn't the same as a full service. Baker said it is "a weird thing" to "be in these big, beautiful empty places" speaking to a camera, but added that it's a necessity at this time.

"I'm sympathetic to that, but I'm also very sympathetic to the fact that there's lots of data from around the globe and places where people didn't put constraints around houses of worship, where the virus went all over the place," Baker said. "And, from my point of view, houses of worship, are another example of the kind of entity that we expect we'll engage with this reopening committee and talk to them about how they would go about doing this but in the meantime, the order's in place, and the city was doing the right thing by enforcing it."

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