In spite of being cited Sunday for breaking Gov. Brian Kemp’s executive order to observe social distancing, a local church plans to hold services as usual on Wednesdays – and on future Sundays, too.
This is dangerous, said Bulloch County Public Safety and Emergency Management Agency Director Ted Wynn. Bulloch County now has 10 confirmed cases of COVID-19, double the number reported Friday. While there have been no deaths to date, five patients with confirmed cases of the coronavirus are being treated at East Georgia Regional Medical Center, he said.
Sunday, five church officials with the Redeeming Love Church of God The Bibleway, located on Highway 67 South, were cited by Georgia state troopers during a lively service. They were each charged with reckless conduct, said Cpl. Matthew Sowell of Georgia State Patrol Post 45. The church was first warned, but when troopers had to return and found around 30 members still clustered together in a small building, they issued citations.
The church’s Facebook page shows several members, standing closely, swaying and singing during the April 5 service.
The citations won’t stop the church from convening, said Pastor Clayton Cowart. “It is our Constitutional right.”
Attending church is no more harmful than going to Walmart, he said. However, local law enforcement is patrolling the stores and business that are open as well as churches and other gatherings, enforcing the social distancing law. Kemp’s mandate states people must stay six feet apart and gather in groups of less than 10.
Cowart said God’s law comes before any other law. “We plan to do our best to respect the law, but it is part of our Constitutional rights to worship.”
Church members are not asked to stay home if sick, nor are they asked to stay six feet apart from each other in the church, he said. “We respect the Governor, but as a church we are called to worship.”
He doesn’t feel like his members gathering in such close proximity is a danger. Videos show the members elbow to elbow, in a small room.
Cowart said “prayer is essential,” just like groceries and medicine. “Our faith doesn’t change in the times of a crisis.”
While the Redeeming Love Church of God The Bibleway congregation and leaders may not fear for their own health, public safety officials are concerned that they may spread illness to others in the community.
“Local law enforcement is assisting GSP in enforcing the Governor’s order on assembly of less than ten and social distancing,” Wynn said.
In rural areas, Bulloch County Sheriff’s deputies have not yet encountered any serious violations, according to Capt. Todd Hutchens.
Inside the Statesboro city limits, police have had to break up a few small parties of young people, said Statesboro Police Chief Mike Broadhead. Sowell said the church incident Sunday is the only encounter state troopers have experienced since the mandate came about.
‘EMA is imploring all churches and assemblies to comply and help limit the spread (of the coronavirus).” Wynn said. “Social distancing will save lives.”
Bulloch and Candler county first responders received personal protection equipment (PPEs) Tuesday thanks to the county “working with the State Operations Center for additional PPE,” he said.
If anyone sees violations of social distancing they don’t need to
call 911, but instead call local law enforcement directly. Bulloch Sheriff’s Office (912-764-8888),
Statesboro PD (912-764-9911) and Georgia State Patrol- Post 45 (912-688-6999.).
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at 912-489-9414.