Coronavirus: Pastor thankful church is considered ‘essential activity’ in stay-at-home order


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — It never changes: Easter Sunday always follows Good Friday. What has changed — is how millions around the country will celebrate this weekend.

Several East Tennessee churches have made the switch to live stream worship, others have even started drive-thru services.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee has urged more churches to make similar changes, to cut down on the spread of the coronavirus; however, it is not a requirement in his executive stay-at-home order.

In the order, visiting a place of worship is considered an essential activity “provided, that the Health Guidelines are followed to the greatest extent practicable.”

Matthew Cooke, Pastor at Maynardville Fellowship Baptist Church, said he’s glad the state deems church as an essential activity.

“I think it would be a violation of the first amendment,” he said. Cooke also plans to have church Sunday, but said he’s asked members to sit at least six feet apart, with their own families, and to avoid shaking hands.

He sees church as no more risk, or any less essential, than going to the grocery store or stopping by a gas station.

“We’ve told people…if you’re sick at all, don’t come. If you have any autoimmune disorders or you’re over 60 and you’re concerned, don’t come…If you’re scared, we want to encourage you to stay home,” Cooke added.

For a full list of activities designated essential by the state, click here.

Cooke also believes the government should not be able to take those choices away.

Lincoln Memorial University law professor, Stewart Harris, explained the ability takes effect during an emergency.

“In normal times, it would be extraordinary for any governor to lock down a state or forbid travel and would likely violate one or more constitutional rights,” Harris explained. “But, these are not normal times. In extraordinary times, when the public health is at risk, governors, like Governor Lee, have extraordinary powers.”

Given the extraordinary times we face, Pastor Cooke is even more compelled to preach Sunday morning.

“Whether you die from coronavirus or whether you die from some other cause, you’re going to die. And so, to spread the message that there is life beyond the grave, is worth it to me,” he said.

Gov. Lee’s executive order expires April 14. We do not yet know whether he plans to extend the order.

“Worship services are considered an essential activity and the Safer at Home order does not close places of worship. Gov. Lee has encouraged churches to choose alternate methods like virtual gatherings or drive-in services where appropriate social distancing is practiced. Earlier this week, Gov. Lee had a call with more than 300 Tennessee pastors and continued to encourage safe alternatives for services that keep CDC guidelines in mind.”

Gullum Ferguson
Interim Press Secretary for Governor Lee

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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