Orange County faith leaders discuss plans to welcome congregation again during town hall

Community faith leaders discuss ‘reopening houses of worship’ amid coronavirus with Orange County mayor

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings hosted a virtual town hall with faith leaders Thursday afternoon to discuss how to best prevent the spread of coronavirus in houses of worship.

The event was hosted in conjunction with the Interfaith Council of Central Florida and the African-American Council of Christian Clergy.

Religious services held in churches, synagogues and houses of worship have been considered essential activities under Gov. Ron DeSantis’ original stay-at-home order and continue to be under the phase one of his reopen Florida plan.

The pandemic, which has resulted in more than 299,300 deaths globally, has been ongoing throughout several major religious holidays including Easter, Passover and now Ramadan.

In an executive order, the Orange County mayor asked religious leaders to encourage their members who are 65 or older and people with underlying medical conditions to stay home due to the risks they face with COVID-19.

“These guidelines are not mandatory but encouraged,” Demings said during a May 6 news conference.

Meanwhile, Pastor Derrick McRae at the Experience Christian Center in Pine hills said he’s working to reopen his doors likely on May 31, but using a multi-phase approach. He said safety is key.

“We want to make it is as safe as possible for the worship experience,” McRae said. “We’re not so into having to get back into a building that we’re going to do it at the cost of lives.”

He said he's only opening a portion of his campus initially.

“We’re only going to open two areas of our church in the first phase. Which is the sanctuary and the fellowship hall," McRae said.

He said a group of 17 people from his church, including medical professionals, have been meeting regularly to come up with ways to safely reopen.

Many pastors said they’re also limiting singing at their church. The pastor at Experience Christian Center said he’s temporarily suspending his choir and will use more of his praise team for now for safety reasons.

During the virtual town hall, Jim Coffin from the Interfaith Council of Central Florida weighed in, saying unity during this process is key.

“And that we work together as a community to overcome the challenges we face, and that all may be blessed for working together,” Coffin said.

Religious leaders got to ask questions, share ideas and hear from Orange County medical leaders during the virtual event.

“The physical contact and the distancing is critical, as well as touching surfaces,” said Dr. Raul Pino from the Florida Department of Health- Orange County.

Pastor Roderick Zak was a moderator for Thursday’s Townhall. He said he believes it is still too soon to reopen his doors, but he’s getting his Apopka church ready now. He’s the pastor at Rejoice in the Lord Ministries in Apopka.

“Having different exits and entry ways is important,”Zak said. “Social distancing, making sure that people wear masks.”

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