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Religious leaders thank Pence for flexibility to reopen but urge caution

Vice President Mike Pence waves as he stops off Air Force Two after arriving at the Des Moines...
Vice President Mike Pence waves as he stops off Air Force Two after arriving at the Des Moines International Airport before meeting with faith leaders and food industry executives in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Friday, May 8, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)(KCRG)
Published: May. 8, 2020 at 1:21 PM CDT
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Iowa's political leaders and Vice President Mike Pence cited the need for faith and God during the pandemic while urging churches and religious institutions to restart in-person services.

Religious leaders had come out and urged churches not to reopen last weekend when Governor Reynolds first removed her order barring religious gatherings as a protection against COVID-19.

"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 a letter released last week.

Those leaders again expressed apprehension and caution at opening but thanked the Vice President and Governor Kim Reynolds for the flexibility to make the decision themselves.

"Thank you for trusting us as churches and denominations, we are excited to carry and exercise our freedom of religion," said Evangelical pastor Calvin Swan.

Several leaders detailed their plans for precautions in reopening. That includes finding ways to social distance in the pews and requiring masks.

Speaking with religious leaders at Urbandale's Westkirk Presbyterian Church, Vice President Mike Pence praised the compassion of the church leaders and thanked them for their concerns for their flocks during the pandemic as well as their prayers for the country.

"I hope if you took nothing else back, just know that we feel those prayers," said Vice President Mike Pence.

He went on to promise to support the freedom of religions to practice in the midst of COVID-19.

Other leaders did note strong concerns with resuming in-person service. A representative of the Jewish faith said they had no plans to reopen anytime soon.

"We are uniformly in a position that it is too early to return to personal worship. It's inadvisable at the moment especially with rising case counts," said David Kaufman, Rabbi, Temple B'nai Jeshurun in Des Moines. "The primary population that attends worship is significantly the vulnerable population."

All church leaders agreed there was a strong desire to return to in-person services. Some even noted frustration of not being able to meet while seeing other gatherings continue.

"These are tough decisions for all of us as leaders knowing there are risks involved and seeing so much difference in standards of people carrying that out, said Monte Knudsen, Pastor, Faith Christian Outreach Church in Coralville. "I laughed when I went to my local Walmart and said there are so many more people here than gather at my church, so I'm not sure how I am processing that idea. But the importance is how do we gather people in a way that is safe."

Iowa's Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst expressed the need for faith and God's help to guide so many who are suffering through the Pandemic.

A roundtable is underway with Vice President Mike Pence on reopening church and religious services amind COVID-19 in Iowa. https://www.kcrg.com/content/news/Pence-lands-in-Iowa-late-after-staffers-get-COVID-19-570312221.html

Posted by KCRG-TV9 on Friday, May 8, 2020

Religious leaders also praised the work of faithful across the state to help organize relief and support for communities and people struggling with the impacts from COVID-19 and the shutdowns. Bob Vander Plaats with the Family Leader called it an opportunity to be the church's "finest hour" to lead through thes difficult times.

Vice President Mike Pence arrived about an hour late to Iowa on Friday after two staffers tested positive for COVID-19 and delayed his departure.

President Trump later announced that the staff member that tested positive was Mike Pence's Press Secretary, Katie Miller.

“She’s a wonderful young woman, Katie, she tested very good for a long period of time and then all of a sudden today she tested positive,” Trump said.

Miller who tested positive was not on the trip, but there was concern about other people on the plane having been in contact with the positive individual, a source familiar told CNN.

Pence's plane landed just after noon in Des Moines where Governor Kim Reynolds greeted the Vice President.

Pence and Reynolds will take part in a roundtable with religious leaders Friday to encourage them to reopen religious church services statewide. The two will also meet with agriculture and food supply industry officials at Hy-Vee to discuss the nation's food supply concerns from COVID-19.

Pence has called Iowa a success story in its efforts to combat COVID-19. That comes as Iowa has seen a surge in cases over the past two weeks. Governor Kim Reynolds, in that time, has moved to ease restrictions and allowed some businesses to reopen with precautions.

Vice President Mike Pence's plane is landing in Des Moines.

Posted by KCRG-TV9 on Friday, May 8, 2020