Churches hold Palm Sunday services despite state bans on gatherings

Coronavirus
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(CNN) — Several churches around the country held services Palm Sunday, some in defiance of state bans on gatherings aimed at stopping the deadly spread of coronavirus.

“We don’t get our rights to worship freely from the government we get those from God,” said the Rev. Tony Spell of Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “We’d rather obey God than man.”

Spell held another massive service at Life Tabernacle despite being charged multiple times last week for violating the state ban.

About 1,220 people attended, some bused in and others driving more than 100 miles to attend, Spell told CNN. Spell has previously told CNN he believes the pandemic is “politically motivated.”

The Rev. Alvin Gwynn Sr. of Friendship Baptist Church in Baltimore, Maryland, said he had a steady stream of people walking through the church, processional style, careful not to have more than eight or nine.

Religious organizations should be on the list of essential organizations, he told CNN.

In Jupiter, Florida, some 20 people attended service at Ascend Church, CNN affiliate WPEC reported. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has exempted worship services from the state’s current coronavirus orders.

Some churches, like Amplified Church in San Antonio, Texas, and Calvary’s Hill Church in Bluefield, Virginia, held drive-in services with loudspeakers.

“Our pastor at Amplified Church, like many other pastors are trying to do their best to keep the people connected and safe; still abiding by the social distancing regulations,” a church spokesperson told CNN via Facebook.

Your coronavirus questions, answered

“It has been a challenge, but we are thankful even in the midst of this pandemic that we can spread the gospel,” the message said.

Despite several clusters of Covid-19 sicknesses traced to congregations — at least 70 cases were traced to a single church in Sacramento, California — other states are also allowing services to continue.

“Churches by and large do the right thing, they want to protect their parishioners,” Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson told reporters Sunday. “There are a few that have a very small attendance and they socially distance. We don’t recommend that, but if it’s within the guidelines, then that’s understandable.”

Hutchinson did mention officials “had trouble with a church putting parishioners at risk.” After the health department called them, “they took the right steps and are not meeting” with a large congregation, Hutchinson said.

Some local leaders have been speaking out against exempting church services from a ban on gatherings and are asking churches to hold them online.

‘Not what we need right now’

“I know it’s a very difficult thing, as a Catholic, Easter Sunday for me next week, Palm Sunday today,” said Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. “But that is not what we need right now. We need prayers right now, that’s what we need.”

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez thanked religious leaders who were holding services online in lieu of regular mass on Palm Sunday, he said in a video briefing on YouTube.

“That’s the safest way to keep us all connected,” Gimenez said. “Let’s help us all stay safer at home during these religious holy days.”

The Archdiocese of Miami suspended all Masses and events on March 16 and encouraged parishes to use livestreaming when possible, Archbishop Thomas Wenski said this week on CNN’s New Day.

The number of Covid-19 cases rose to at least 331,151 nationwide Sunday, and at least 9,441 people have died, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

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