Alaska churches defy size limits in emergency health order
(AP) - Some churches in Alaska’s largest city have recently defied the emergency order limiting the size of gatherings in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The Anchorage health order prohibits indoor gatherings of more than 15 people in public, including religious services, Alaska Public Media reported Thursday.
Anchorage Baptist Temple, one of the municipality’s largest churches, held in-person services Sunday, about a week after the emergency order took effect.
The exact number of attendees was unclear, but a video showed more than 15 people at the service in the church that normally has a congregation of up to 2,000. Most of the participants appeared to maintain social distancing of 6 feet (1.83 meters).
Pastor Ron Hoffman addressed the issue in his Sunday sermon, which was posted on social media.
“When our civil authority says something, we find ourselves in a quandary,” Hoffman said. “But we must always obey God. We cannot stop sharing the gospel. We will not stop worshiping God. We will not stop being the church.”
While congregants are normally called to obey civil authority, they should not obey authority conflicting with God’s teachings, Hoffman said.
Church officials did not respond to requests for comment.
A handful of other churches indicated they are not complying with the measure, although there were not clear figures of how many people attended any of the services.
“We have chosen to obey God’s laws and assemble on Sabbath as the Scriptures tell us to do,” Art Mathias of Wellspring Ministries in Anchorage said in a statement, which did not provide details of the services.
King’s Chapel in Eagle River posted videos on social media showing services with crowds exceeding the size allowed by the emergency order.
Other churches, temples and a mosque in Anchorage have said they are complying with the municipality’s order.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
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