North Texas Faith Leaders Opting Not to Hold in-Person Worship Services Yet

Gov. Greg Abbott has deemed religious services as essential

Many faith groups have moved their services online since shelter-in-place orders went into effect in order to continue to reach congregations they can't physically see.

In light of updated guidance this week from the offices of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, many local faith leaders have said those virtual services won't be going away yet.

The new joint guidance prevents local governments from ordering houses of worship, which have been deemed essential, to close.

Abbott has said houses of worship should follow specific guidance, which includes the recommendation that they hold remote activities when possible and follow CDC and White House guidelines that include social distancing.

Fort Worth, which previously prohibited community and faith-based gatherings except online or as a drive-thru service, changed its stay-at-home order Friday to match the governor's.

Mayor Betsy Price said Fort Worth officials still encourage places of worship to hold services remotely to help stop the spread of the virus.

In a statement, Bishop Scott Mayer of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth said he has extended the suspension of in-person services through May. Faith leaders are exploring a "phased approach" to resuming those services, the diocese said.

The parishes in the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth will also continue to have Mass without a congregation this weekend, according to a spokesman.

At a news conference Thursday, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said he spoke with Islamic imams and other religious leaders who planned not to hold services this weekend.

"I'll leave it up to each faith group and each faith leader to determine what they do and I'll leave it up to each person who would consider attending a service to consider what they will do," Jenkins said.

He added that county and federal health authorities encourage people not to hold or gather in congregant worship services at this time.

Diocese of Dallas Bishop Edward Burns has stayed steadfast with his decree and indicated that churches are closed through the end of this month.

"The bishop will consider information from medical experts and government officials before consulting with the diocese's priest advisory council in coming to a decision on the best time and way to resume public services," a statement from the diocese said.

Burns said a new decree will be announced after details of the governor's next statement can be considered.

Abbott is expected to address the state Monday about what other businesses can reopen and standards and practices for those businesses.

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