ORLANDO, FL — Thousands of churches across the nation held in-person services last Sunday for the first time since the government shutdown. Significantly, May 31 was Pentecost, the seventh Sunday after Easter, and it marks the birth of the Christian Church when the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles and followers of Jesus.
The River at Tampa Bay Church in Florida held an outdoor worship service on church property with thousands in attendance last Sunday morning. The service was in the church parking lot covered by AstroTurf and people brought their own chairs/seating. Many babies were dedicated during the service. This was the church’s first in-person worship service since the pastor, Dr. Rodney Howard-Browne, was wrongfully arrested at his home on March 30 for holding a church service on Sunday, March 29. The politically motivated charges have since been dropped. Sunday morning’s service was a kick-off for nightly revival services.
In New Jersey, the Dwelling Place Pentecostal Church in Millville practiced safety measures including seating with social-distancing guidelines and sanitizing with professional-grade alcohol and opened the windows to keep fresh air circulating. Pastor Bobby Bledsoe said, “We didn’t mind closing to be a good neighbor and to follow what the governor said but when all these places have been opening, and you have 300-400 people in a Lowe’s or a grocery store, or you can go to the liquor store or get an abortion, and churches being nonessential, that’s when we decided we had to take a stand and let our voice be heard that we believe the church is essential.”
New Life Church in Millville, New Jersey also held its first indoor service in months with about 300 people last Sunday. Pastor Richard Myers said, “Prolonged isolation is producing more divorce, depression, domestic violence and even post-traumatic stress disorder, and that’s why people need to come back to church. That’s the reason why it’s time to open for us,” he said. “It’s the oath of my ordination to take care of the people that have been assigned to me.”
After the U.S. Department of Justice warned California Gov. Gavin Newsom that his plan to reopen the state discriminates against churches, and President Donald Trump declared churches and houses of worship to be “essential,” several thousand California churches opened for the first time on Pentecost.
Southern California Pastor Jack Hibbs preached about how God has honored the church in California throughout history. Hibbs said, “Our leadership in our state has systemically insulted people in a state of political correctness. How dare we. We should have thought that one through when you tell somebody who is hurt and wounded with no hope and no Jesus, ‘you’re not essential.’ You’ve sent them to their grave. Everyone is essential in the heart of God.”
The Supreme Court wrote penned words that are even more true today:
“The ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will.” Everson v. Bd. of Educ. of Ewing Tp., 330 U.S. 1, 15 (1947) (emphasis added).
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman, Mat Staver, said, “The First Amendment provides special protections to churches and houses of worship. It guarantees the free exercise of religion and prevents the state from establishing a religion.”