Friday, April 10, 2020

Coronavirus creates conflict for churches, where gatherings can be dangerous but also provide solace

Even with a stay-at-home directive from California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), Rivers of Living Water Church in Sacramento holds an in-person Palm Sunday service, led by Pastor Dan Ostring, right, and Rafael Palma. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

By Scott Wilson, Michelle Boorstein, Arelis R. Hernández and Lori Rozsa

April 5, 2020 at 6:17 p.m. EDT

SACRAMENTO — Pastor Dan Ostring promised parishioners that, as Christians began marking their holiest week on this Palm Sunday, the Rivers of Living Water Church would be open for the fellowship, song and sermon that they have always celebrated together.

He kept his public pledge, despite receiving hate mail all week warning that he would “burn in hell” if he opened the cross-covered doors of his tiny church. A few miles away, across the wide American River, a church more than 100 times larger than Ostring’s was shuttered late last month after scores of parishioners and a senior pastor tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Just seven people, including Ostring, took their places in the five rows of pews, which made social distancing achievable almost by default. Communion was offered in individual cups. The sermon, delivered by parishioner Rafael Palma, did not mention the pandemic afflicting the nation. He focused instead on “Christ’s death and resurrection” with Easter Sunday a week away.

“If we stop all churches for this, what will be the next crisis that shuts the churches?” said Ostring, 63, who acknowledged that if his church were larger, he might not have held the public service Sunday. “We don’t want anyone here to get sick. But we also do not want to violate our right to the free practice of religion.”  Read more >>