MEMPHIS, Tennessee —
An unexpected announcement Friday by President Trump urges the reopening of houses of worship, adding them to the list of essential businesses. The move quickly became controversial since data has shown worship facilities to be hotbeds for the spread of the coronavirus.
While many faith leaders will continue to observe stay home orders, one of the area's largest churches was planning to reopen long before today's announcement by the President.
Today's actions have drawn a deeper divide among Americans still coming to grips with a deadly virus that continues to tear families apart. Now, the faithful are grappling over whether it's safe for the dearly beloved to gather these days.
President Donald Trump Friday called for the opening of houses of worship, deviating from the planned phased reopening of the nation's businesses.
“Governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now, for this weekend," Trump said.
Trump threatened to override governors refusing to abide by his request, something constitutional experts say is not within Trump’s power.
A week ago, a diverse group of West Tennessee clergy released a unified video making clear they'll wait longer before resuming face-to-face worship.
"So, until we feel it's safer, many of us are delaying face-to-face gatherings for praise and worship, for shabbat, zuma, Holy Eucharist. Stay vigilant Memphis," the clergy said.
Not included in that video was Pastor Steve Gaines of Bellevue Baptist Church. Instead Thursday on Facebook, he announced in person services starting Saturday June 6 and Sunday June 7.
"When we get back together we're going to offer 3 different worship times. Saturday at 5:30 pm, Saturday at 8:30 pm and Sunday at 10:30 am. At each of these hours we will be meeting in the Worship Center while exercising appropriate distancing between families," Rev. Gaines said.
Gaines does caution the sick or those with preexisting conditions to continue to worship with Bellevue online.
“While we will encourage everybody to wear a mask, it will only be required in the ‘mask required service,’" Gaines explained.
That "masked" Sunday morning service will be held in the church’s gym.
While social distancing guidelines from the state of Tennessee and the CDC call for crowds be limited to 50 or less, Gaines made no mention of crowd capacity at the services but did say more details would be forthcoming.