Twenty-five percent capacity. Pre-registration for attendees. Wearing masks throughout the service. No hymnals or prayer books in the pews. No shared audio visual equipment. Social distancing. Constant cleaning of surfaces. And although the guidelines didn't specifically say so, shared communion cups are probably not a great idea right now.
Before presenting the ways that a City of Houston Faith & Community Leaders subcommittee believes religious congregations can guard against the spread of the coronavirus at their services, Mayor Sylvester Turn paused at the start of his Friday afternoon press conference to acknowledge some deaths.
He began with that of Lemuel Bruce, 44, with the Houston Fire Department who died early Friday morning after being shot while in some kind of confrontation with a shooter in the 2100 block of West 18th. Bruce married and the father of two children, became the first arson investigator to be shot and killed in the line of duty. He had been investigating reported arson fires in the area. The suspect died at the scene.
From there, Turner moved into the latest COVID1-9 deaths (three) and positive cases (138). The city's total of positive coronavirus cases now stands at 79,964 and total deaths at 1,273 people, he said, adding that although the positivity rate has gone down to around 5 percent, people need to maintain the same cautions: masks, frequent hand washing and social distancing.
Stressing that "these are guidelines and not mandates," and acknowledging that they are proposing capacity limits that are much more limited than the state allows, Turner said he expects that some churches will continue to operate remotely.
Dr. Irishea Hilliard, senior pastor at New Light Christian Center said the main purpose of the recommendations is to keep church attendance as safe as possible. "We shouldn't have to risk our lives to lift up our faith and our God that we serve."
"I think the moral responsibility is not just 'Did I have a good service?' but did I make sure that my parishioners and my members were safe so that Monday through Friday, Saturday, that they still are alive and not at risk and don't have to go on your 'sick and shut-in list."
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The Rev. Rodrigo Vargas of UNION Houston pointed out that "Oftentimes we got a little pushback on wearing masks during worship. One of the things that I think a lot of people miss is that oftentimes we make that claim from a very Westernized position — not realizing that Jesus Christ was a middle easterner who wore a scarf most of the day because of the dust, the infection and the smell of dung that was going around.
"This is about having enough faith to care for people to be a little inconvenienced to make sure that we get through this together."
Here's the entire report and its guidelines: