Puget Sound-area congregations across the religious spectrum wisely rejected President Donald Trump’s rash call to reopen churches before Memorial Day. By staying the course and refraining from in-person services, these faith groups showed how to accept medical science while maintaining faith in a higher power.
As a path forward, the guidelines Gov. Jay Inslee issued Wednesday for safe church reopening as counties phase out restrictions provide a useful framework. The strongest possible cautionary example about rushing to reopen church is too recent to forget: the March 10 choir practice at Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church where singers caught COVID-19 and two died. That private choir is not part of the church itself, but it offers a warning of what could happen if churches have their own choirs gather. The CDC labeled that meeting a “superspreader” event in a study that found a possible 87% COVID-19 infection rate among those in the room.
Ever since Inslee issued stay-home orders March 23, Puget Sound-area religious groups have creatively adapted to this unprecedented challenge. Many worship leaders moved to streaming services online; other congregations convened drive-in services. These methods will remain vital ways to reaching vulnerable congregants even after counties are cleared to gradually reopen. Most important, they display an apolitical desire to protect the faithful during a time of constant threat.
As the Washington State Catholic Conference responded to Trump in a public letter signed by Archbishop Paul Etienne and other church leaders, Mass remains suspended “not out of fear, but out of our deepest respect for human life and health. … Our love of God and neighbor is always personal and not partisan.”
The list of other religious organizations behaving responsibly and compassionately includes faith groups too numerous to count. Among them, the Latter-day Saints’ Bellevue temple has been closed for months, and church leadership deferred reopening decisions to local government. Leaders of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Washington and the Northwest Washington synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America each report that member congregations are meeting only from afar.
These belong on the long list of painful-but-necessary sacrifices every American has needed to make during the pandemic. All faiths differ, but the desire to rejoin congregations can be felt in churches, mosques and temples without exception. The reward for resisting that temptation is too immense for believers and the rest of society to rush past because of politics.