“There’s hand sanitizer in every pew,” one attendee said about having in-person worship services at Maryville Baptist Church on Easter Sunday.
Louisville Courier Journal
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Bevelyn Beatty and Edmee Chavannes of New Jersey were already planning to travel to Nashville this week, but they headed south early when they heard that Maryville Baptist Church in Hillview would be having an in-person Easter service.
“We refuse to not gather on Easter,” said Beatty, who does street ministry with At the Well Ministries alongside Chavannes. She said she was happy to find a church with open doors during a pandemic that’s shut so much of the country down.
“We had to go online and see who would be courageous enough to say ‘hey we’re having service,'” she said, “because (there’s) a lot of scrutiny.”
The two joined about 50 others who gathered at Maryville, located in Bullitt County, and sat in pews filled with hand sanitizer and marked with blue tape to space out worshipers.
The church and its pastor, Jack Roberts, have come under heat for continuing in-person services despite executive orders banning mass gatherings, a state-backed order from the Bullitt County Health Department to cease in-person gatherings “immediately” and a rising number of coronavirus cases in Kentucky.
On Sunday, the congregation and its visitors also contended with 14-day quarantine notices distributed on cars by two Kentucky State Police troopers and nails that had, apparently, been dropped in piles by the parking lot entrances.
Still, Beatty and Chavannes weren’t the only ones who traveled from out of state to listen to Roberts preach in person. Seth Powell came to church from Dayton, Ohio, to “stand with these people.”
“Not everyone has WiFi,” he said. “There’s a lot of homeless people that have to go to libraries to get on the computer and the libraries are closed. They don’t have anywhere to go.”
For him, church is essential, he said, and he came down to support what he sees as a good thing.
“I’m sad because this is very special,” Powell said, his voice breaking. “It’s very special for a lot of people.”
In his Sunday evening update, Gov. Andy Beshear slammed Maryville for gathering and specifically expressed disapproval of the women who came in from New Jersey.
“The state that had over 3,000 cases that may be the new epicenter,” Beshear said. “And because of this open invitation, even on a special day like today, just brought all of New Jersey’s contacts into Kentucky.”
He added that only about seven churches in Kentucky broke the rules on Easter Sunday said “thank you” to churches that followed recommendations.
Kentucky public health commissioner Dr. Steven Stack, too, said Bullitt County is now at risk of getting a lot of new cases.
“At what point does our right to gather entitle us to have other people die as a direct result?” he asked.
Beatty and Chavannes said they had no fear in coming into a full sanctuary to worship.
“The Bible says greater is he that is in me than he that is in the world,” Beatty said. “And the Bible also says that when you follow the Lord, those that follow him and those that believe in him, will be able to cast out demons, will be able to trample on serpents, scorpions, all of these things, and it won’t affect us. So technically, if a person has corona, they can come to me and I can lay hands on them and we can get rid of that corona. That’s the authority that we have in Christ.”
“So it was not a concern for me to catch it, nor am I going to give it to anyone.”
Chavannes said she worries about constitutional rights being infringed on and feels that because of the coronavirus, “a lot of the freedoms are being surrendered.”
“Quite frankly, we are the church,” she said. “So being in a building for me personally, it’s not what matters for me the most. … I’m a walking church.”
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But as the weeks went on, she said she became more worried about people not gathering, especially on Easter Sunday.
“The only thing, really, in Christianity that sets it apart from everyone else is this resurrection aspect,” she said. “I mean, this is the crux of Christianity. You don’t have a resurrection, you don’t have a Christ. You don’t have a Christ, we might as well eat and be merry ’cause we’re gonna die and that’s it, as far as the belief is concerned.”
Both said they feel that advice on dealing with the coroanvirus is important. They’re not opposed to requests to avoid certain things, she said. What they take issue with is the mandate. It makes them feel that their freedoms aren’t being respected, they said.
And, they both said they feel the church is unfairly targeted while liquor stores and grocery stores remain crowded.
“Should it not be at the person’s own discretion at this point?” Beatty asked. “We essentially need Jesus. So let us do us. That’s all we’re asking.”
Scott Utterback contributed to this report.
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