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Local faith groups say religious services will not reopen yet

St. James Catholic Cathedral in Seattle. (paweesit, Flickr)

President Trump may have declared that all religious services should be deemed essential and open back up immediately, but that doesn’t mean faith groups in the Seattle area are going to do so.

“Governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now — for this weekend,” President Trump said Friday.

However, many Seattle spiritual leaders say they plan to take their cue from political and medical leaders before adapting to a new kind of worship.

And those political leaders are firm that President Trump cannot tell individual states when or how to reopen.

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“The governor’s office continues to work with spiritual leaders and health experts to identify ways to do this safely,” Governor Inslee’s office said in a statement. “While we have read the president’s comments, there is no order and we think he understands at this point that he can’t dictate what states can or cannot open.”

The Archdioceses of Seattle, Yakima, and Spokane agree.

“We want to let you know that the public celebration of Mass was suspended, not out of fear, but out of our deepest respect for human life and health,” said the Washington State Catholic Conference in a letter signed by the state’s five bishops. “As disciples of Jesus, we are called to be instruments of God’s protection for the vulnerable and the public common good … we will wait to schedule our public worship when it is safe and we are prepared to do so.”

The Church Council of Greater Seattle, which represents a variety of churches in the Seattle area, is also recommending to individual churches that they wait to reopen until conditions are safer.

Michael Ramos, director of the Church Council, said when the time for restarting religious services comes, the process should be a slow one.

“Reopening should be gradual, with different steps taken to ensure that when people come back together, they do so safely, with different precautions in place,” he said.

His recommendation is to start with outdoor gatherings, and limit those gatherings to a smaller number of people than a normal service.

It is not just churches that plan to wait.

Rabbi Daniel Weiner, senior rabbi at Temple de Hirsch Sinai, says their Seattle and Bellevue synagogues will remain closed until both the local disease data and state leaders say it is safe to open back up.

He said knowingly taking an action that could risk the health of the congregation goes against the faith’s most basic principles to love and care for one another.

“The idea that religious communities, faith communities, would recklessly put their membership in danger for wanting to live out their faith is something that is just an anathema to us,” he said.

Weiner said one blanket statement made from Washington, D.C., cannot be applicable to the entire nation — each community must make its own individual decision based on the impact of the virus in that area.

“Very much we want to gather again together, and we want to be together for milestones, worship, what have you — but we want to do so in a way that’s not going to jeopardize or imperil our people,” Weiner said.

The Catholic Conference, Church Council, and Temple de Hirsch Sinai all have members working with the governor’s office to create safety guidelines for religious services when they start up again.

In the meantime, houses of worship have been holding services online and will continue to do so.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations has not yet responded to a request for comment.

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