Pastors say churches offer ‘balm’ to the suffering, want more people allowed in the pews
Several dozen pastors gathered in front of the Thompson Center on Thursday to voice their concerns.
Invoking the supremacy of God’s law and making a comparison to the evils of communism, a group of Illinois pastors — led by former mayoral candidate Willie Wilson — called Thursday for a loosening of statewide restrictions on church gatherings.
“All of these restrictions, they sound more like communism,” said Florin Cimpean, senior pastor at Philadelphia Romanian Church of God in the Ravenswood neighborhood, one of several dozen religious leaders who gathered Thursday outside the Thompson Center to take issue with Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order.
But Cimpean, who said he grew up in Soviet-controlled Romania, added: “Not even communists were able to completely shut down churches. We are essential. The spiritual, emotional and mental impact of this [coronavirus] will probably be greater long-term than the medical one.”
Cimpean said his church held services last week with about 40 people in attendance and plans to do so again this weekend — a violation of Pritzker’s order, which allows for a maximum religious gathering of 10 people, regardless of place of worship’s size.
The gathering Thursday came on the heels of a victory a day earlier for Pritzker, whose order survived a religious challenge in federal court from a pair of churches that sought to hold worship services with strict social-distancing guidelines in place.
The pastors gathered at the Thompson Center say the 10-person limit is arbitrary and doesn’t take into account the size of churches — some of which have large sanctuaries and could, they say, safely handle more parishioners.
Pastor Charles Mironas of Hope Community Bible Church in Park Ridge echoed the sentiments of his fellow religious leaders when he described the church as “essential.”
“If ever the world needed a church, it’s now,” Mironas said. “We are a balm of healing to the community. People need to know there is hope, need to know that there are answers.”
The pastors say they weren’t given a voice — weren’t invited to the table — before Pritzker issued his order.
Wilson, who organized the event, said the order doesn’t recognize that many in poorer communities might not have the option to shift services online, as has become common in more affluent North Side communities.
“You have a lot of homes in the poor communities that don’t even have Wi-Fi,” Wilson said. “They don’t have the technology. They can’t afford it.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot has said she has no interest in having noncomplying parishioners or pastors arrested, but has also said she’ll do what needs to be done to make sure the rules are followed.
Asked if he’s concerned that violating the stay-at-home order might lead to an arrest, Cimpean said: “I don’t think the mayor will do that. But if they want to do that, let them come. It is what it is.”