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Billings religious leaders say places of worship are essential, and they still social distance

Posted at 11:37 PM, May 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-24 13:08:23-04

President Trump called places of worship "essential" Friday and said they should open during the pandemic, but religious leaders in Billings say they're taking it slow.

"Today I'm identifying houses of worship, churches, synagogues, and mosques, as essential places that provide essential services," Trump said at the White House. "Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential but have left out churches and other houses of worship. It’s not right. So I'm correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential."

The president said places of worship hold society together, keep people united and many embrace worship as an essential part of their lives.

"The governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now, for this weekend," Trump said. "If they don't do it, I will override the governors. In America, we need more prayer, not less."

In Montana, places of worship are already allowed to hold live services, so the president's words have not affected some churches and synagogues.

Although they're allowed to have live services with limited attendance, Faith Chapel and Congregation Beth Aaron in Billings have not reopened during phase one.

They both already made decisions before the Trump's remarks calling places of worship essential.

Faith Chapel has been doing online services and will start with a modified reopening the weekend of June 6 and 7 during phase two of reopening in Montana.

The service will be down from 1,800 to about 400 and with fewer in the children's services.

Congregation Beth Aaron has done online services before and during phase one.

The decision was just made to not have live services through June.

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"We view ourselves as being essential for our community," said Student Rabbi Erik Uriate of Congregation Beth Aaron. "Part of that essential responsibility remains to be thinking of the health of our communities and the most vulnerable among us."

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"I think we're essential," said Pastor Nathan Poetzl, lead pastor at Faith Chapel. "But one of the interesting things about the church is over the last 2,000 years, churches never needed a big building in order to meet. After this June 1 edict, we'll run parallel tracks. We'll continue our online services and then we'll begin to open up our building as well. "

Over the last month, several church leaders that have held in-person services with distancing and other precautions during phase one.

That group includes the Montana Pastors Network, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Great Falls-Billings and the Montana District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

In his speech, the president asked the CDC to release guidelines specific to reopening churches, synagogues and mosques..

For gatherings of all kinds, the agency advises using face coverings, holding services in large ventilated areas or outdoors, frequent cleaning and disinfecting and social distancing.

It also says to consider suspending or decreasing singing, caning or reciting during services.