Everyone has the right to church, says a federal lawsuit filed Thursday on behalf of The Beloved Church, a small evangelical congregation outside of Rockford. It is fighting Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s extension of the COVID-19 stay-at-home executive order.
The plaintiffs argue that by classifying sacred worship as “non-essential,” Pritzker and other public officials demonstrate “illegal and discriminatory hostility to religious practice, churches, and people of faith” and are “relegating them to second-class citizenship.” The lawsuit was filed by the Thomas More Society, a public interest law firm in Chicago.
“Most faith leaders have found new ways to connect with parishioners” via Zoom and other online outlets during the pandemic, Pritzker responded.
The governor also tweaked his executive order, to classify religious gatherings as “essential activities.” Illinois residents can now “engage in the free exercise of religion, provided that such exercise must comply with social distancing requirements and the limit on gatherings of more than 10 people in keeping with CDC guidelines for the protection of public health.”
Religious institutions are encouraged to “use online or drive-in services to protect the health and safety of their congregants,” Pritzker’s order now states.
The federal lawsuit also argues Pritzker is unfairly restricting religious institutions while allowing some businesses, like liquor stores, to operate freely. “Plaintiffs believe that, in these dark times, Illinoisans need the Spirit of Almighty God, but Pritzker’s orders have left them to settle for the lesser spirits dispensed out of the state’s liquor stores,” reads the court filing.
To God, nothing is more sacred than life. In this pandemic, I am staying home to save them.
And church-hopping has become my Balm in Gilead. This Roman Catholic has discovered services, Bible studies, choral concerts and spiritual outlets of all stripes, 24/7 on the web.
On Easter, I was at my regular church, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Lakeview. I watched the service via the web, joyful in my virtual pew as the organ roared with resurrection hymns. I could almost smell the lilies springing up around the altar.
From my comfy chair, I check into Holy Name Cathedral, where Cardinal Blase Cupich says Sunday Mass, airing live on ABC-7.
On Holy Thursday, I caught up with my favorite rebel priest at St. Sabina Church in Auburn Gresham. In a mystical 2019 Facebook recording, the Rev. Michael Pfleger reenacts The Last Supper. White-robed “Apostles” strode barefoot to a massive wooden table by candlelight. “Father Mike” boomed out iconic scripture passages.
By staying home, I could go home again. I grew up around St. Columbanus Church in Park Manor and graduated from “Dear Saint C,” its elementary school. As an aspiring teen journalist, I helped write the church newsletter.
I have not stepped through those Gothic doors for decades. The Sunday after Easter, I was back at St. Columbanus, via Facebook live. The sanctuary was exactly as I remembered.
The guitarist plunked out familiar black spirituals, so 1970s yet so now.
The pastor, the Rev. Matthew S. O’Donnell, stepped down from the podium and raised his hands for the sermon to “Amens.”
After Jesus was crucified, Father O’Donnell recalled, the apostles locked their doors in fear. As we stay at home, “we may feel unsettled,” he preached. “We might feel our lives have been disrupted.”
“There are no locked doors that God can’t get through,” he exhorted. “Nothing, nothing, nothing can separate us from the love of God.”
Our doors may be locked, but the church is always there.
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