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21 ecumenical leaders in Iowa say religious gatherings should still wait despite easing restrictions

Churches under the auspices of the Archdiocese of Dubuque and Diocese of Davenport are making...
Churches under the auspices of the Archdiocese of Dubuque and Diocese of Davenport are making changes to services in response to coronavirus. (Maggie Wedlake/KCRG)(KCRG)
Published: Apr. 28, 2020 at 5:11 PM CDT
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A group of religious leaders spanning several Christian denominations released a joint statement on Tuesday, saying that their congregations and members should still refrain from in-person religious gatherings for the time being.

The statement, signed by bishops, reverends, and others from Presbyterian, Episcopal, United Methodist, Catholic, Lutheran, Disciples of Christ, Baptist, Mennonite, and other denominations, said that they were concerned about Gov. Kim Reynolds' recent decision to allow spiritual and religious gatherings statewide starting on May 1. The leaders said they learned of the governor's decision "with surprise."

The 21 church leaders said that they are recommending that congregations and members do not gather in person, but continue to use technological means to worship at a distance. They said that decisions to return to in-person services will be based on science and guidance from public health officials.

"It is by our faith that we are compelled to love our neighbor. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, that love comes to expression by remaining physically apart. Loving our neighbor, and thereby the whole community, includes putting public health and the well being of others ahead of the natural desire to be physically present together in community and in worship," the statement read.

The four Catholic bishops that oversee the Catholic Church in Iowa announced that public Masses in their areas will continue to be suspended until further notice, in spite of the ability to gather according to state guidance.

"In light of the expectation that positive cases of COVID-19 will peak in Iowa in the next few weeks, we have decided it would be most prudent for now to continue to follow the liturgical restrictions we have in place, including the suspension of public Masses," the bishops wrote, in a statement. "Without an effective vaccine or widespread testing and contact data that justifies a change in course, we simply are not at a place where we can resume our previous prayer practices."

The leaders expressed sympathy for the suffering of any during the ongoing pandemic, due to health, economic, or other sources of stress during this time.

Read the full statement below:

"As denominational leaders in the Christian tradition, we are united in our concern regarding Governor Kim Reynolds’ declaration to allow spiritual and religious gatherings in Iowa.

It was with surprise we learned of the Governor’s proclamation and, as such, we feel compelled to provide clarity and guidance of what it means for congregations to be faithful and safe during these extraordinary times.

In the spirit of ecumenism, we join together in asking congregations and members across the state to take faithful action by refraining from in-person religious gatherings, including worship. We encourage and hope that congregations will worship and gather in community from afar continuing the use of technology and other means. Decisions to return to in-person gatherings in our congregations should be based on science, the best practices recommended by public health officials, and in consultation with the leaders of our faith communities.

It is by our faith that we are compelled to love our neighbor. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, that love comes to expression by remaining physically apart. Loving our neighbor, and thereby the whole community, includes putting public health and the well being of others ahead of the natural desire to be physically present together in community and in worship.

As faith leaders, our hearts grieve for the immense pain and suffering felt by so many during these times. Whether mourning the loss of a loved one who has died from the coronavirus; facing the economic stress due to the loss of employment, business, or income; feeling isolated or alone; experiencing the stress of managing children and work from home; carrying the burden of uncertainty from the disaster and when a new normal may emerge, we pray you might find strength and hope in God’s unending and ever-present love.

For the sake of the common good, we ask all congregations, their leaders, and their members to prioritize the safety and well being of each other, those at particular risk, and those in their broader community. Please love one another and your neighbor by continuing to be in community together from afar.

Rev. Ian McMullen, General Presbyter, Presbytery of North Central Iowa

Bishop Laurie Haller, Iowa Conference of The United Methodist Church

Rev. Brigit Stevens, Executive Conference Minister; Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota UCC Conferences

The Right Reverend Alan Scarfe, Bishop of The Episcopal Diocese of Iowa

Bishop Thomas R. Zinkula, Catholic Diocese of Davenport

Bishop Michael L. Burk, Southeastern Iowa Synod - ELCA

Rev. Lorna H. Halaas, Bishop, Western Iowa Synod, ELCA

Bishop Steven L. Ullestad, Northeastern Iowa Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Rev. John M. Richardson, Interim Regional Minister, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the Upper Midwest

Rev. Jacquline L. Saxon, Executive Minister of Mid-American Baptist Churches of Iowa and Minnesota

Tim Button-Harrison, Northern Plains District Executive, Church of the Brethren

Rev. David Feltman, Ecumenical Connections of Iowa Coordinator

Rev. Kristin Pike, Presbyterian Church (USA), Stated Clerk of the Presbyteries of Des Moines & North Central Iowa

Pat Shipley, Stated Clerk, Presbytery Missouri River Valley

Rev. Richard Francis, Stated Clerk, Presbytery of Prospect Hill, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Elder Amgad Beblawi, Interim Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Des Moines

Rebecca Blair, Ph.D., Stated Clerk, Presbytery of East Iowa

Rev. Chaz Ruark, Executive Presbyter, John Knox Presbytery

Nathan Luitjens, Executive Conference Minister, Central Plains Mennonite Conference

Susan Janzen, Conference Minister for Ministerial Leadership, Central Plains Mennonite Conference

Amanda Bleichty, Conference Minister for Christian Formation, Central Plains Mennonite Conference"