NC churches welcome back congregations as Gov. Cooper's restrictions lifted

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- Fear of COVID-19 has led to many changes of routine, but some people are pushing back against the suggestion that indoor church services could be unsafe.

ABC11 cameras rolled as about 100 people walked through the parking lot at Triangle Christian Center (TCC) and into the building. Many, including the pastor, rejoiced when they learned that a federal judge's ruling temporarily blocked Governor Roy Cooper's executive order that said no indoor services due to coronavirus concerns.

"I think it's about time," said Jim Whitfield, pastor of the TCC. "Thank God for Baptists! I understand it's a couple of Baptist churches and maybe an organization they had founded and they filed suit."

That organization, Return America, is a coalition of churches that challenged the governor's executive order on Thursday. Their lawsuit claimed Cooper violated the U.S. Constitution by "virtually banning religious assembly" and inhibiting freedom of religion.

While the Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral and other houses of worship followed Cooper's order and had services outside, Whitfield's flock filled indoor pews with no social distancing.

He believes they're safe inside the church, "And in our daycare we've not had one infection in the whole period of time, and right up front we were declared essential."

The 14-day temporary order prevents the state for blocking services inside churches. A spokesperson for Governor Cooper sent a statement that said:

'While our office disagrees with the decision, we will not appeal, but instead, urge houses of worship and their leaders to voluntarily follow public health guidance to keep their members safe."

Many of the people who attended Mass at the cathedral wore masks, most at Whitfield's church did not.

"We've only had one," Whitfield said when asked if masks were an option for his flock. "And that was this past Wednesday evening. She came, and it wasn't long before she took it off. She didn't know what to expect when she came."

A spokesperson for the clergy at the cathedral says, "Today's Catholic parish mass was planned before Saturday's information about the availability of indoor masses. The monsignor said leaders will study possible next steps, but nothing's been announced."

We'll update you as we get more information from church and state leaders.
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