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Thousands attend church for Palm Sunday services despite stay-at-home orders

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The next few weeks will be a tough time for the United States. As coronavirus cases and deaths begin to peak, US Surgeon General Jerome Adams said the next week would be the "hardest and the saddest" for "most Americans' lives." He went on to suggest that the week could be a "Pearl Harbor moment" and a "9/11 moment."

President Donald Trump seems to agree, saying at one of his daily briefings: “This will be the toughest week. There will be a lot of death, unfortunately.”

But despite these warnings, thousands of Americans attended Palm Sunday services on Sunday. 

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Source: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Several governors have designated houses of worship as providing essential services, exempting them from shutdown orders. In other states, places of worship are choosing to defy orders to shut their doors. 

Jack Roberts, a 76-year-old preacher at Maryville Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, told the Courier Journal that he would rather face a fine than close his doors.

“I’m not interested in trying to defy the government,” he said. “I don’t want to battle with anybody. What I’d like to do is just preach the gospel, and that’s become more difficult as time’s gone on. And it’s truthfully what I plan on doing.” 

In response to Roberts' plan to keep his doors open, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said: "If you're still holding mass gatherings, church or otherwise, you were spreading the coronavirus. And you were likely causing the death of Kentuckians. It's that clear." 

Churchgoers have also been attending services at Rock Church in Monroe, Ohio, where CNN interviewed a woman who said she was protected by "Jesus' blood."

Pastor Lawrence Bishop II told his congregation that the church had come under attack for holding the service, but that no one was faulting people who “packed into Lowes this morning, elbow to elbow and a two-hour wait to get in.” 

“It’s not the people at the bars that are hating on us and attacking us, it’s other Christians or other churches and I guess they want to justify their own, listen we’re not bashing you if you don’t want to have church,” Bishop said as he was applauded.

“But I say the scripture that says forsake not to assemble yourselves together more so when you see the end approaching, if we don’t see the end approaching now, if this is not the beginning of the end then I don’t know what is.” 

Monroe Mayor Jason Frentzel had previously written to places of worship, asking them not to hold services. 

“While I understand that you have the right to assemble, I also understand the community’s concerns with having such a large gathering coming together in this current environment,” Frentzel wrote. “I implore you to please reconsider your choice to continue to offer in person services to your worshipers.”

Solid Rock decided to go ahead with services despite the pleas, but have said that they're introducing social distancing methods including keeping families six feet apart and avoiding physical contact. Video recorded by CNN, however, showed worshipers shaking hands and hugging on Sunday.

Pastor Tony Spell, who was arrested last week for holding services at Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, also defied stay-at-home orders on Sunday. 

Hundreds of worshippers arrived at the church on 26 buses according to Reuters. “They would rather come to church and worship like free people than live like prisoners in their homes,” Spell told reporters. 

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Source: CLAIRE BANGSER/AFP via Getty Images

Congregation members enter the Life Tabernacle Church for a Palm Sunday service in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Referring to the possibility that people will suffer depression and anxiety by being forced to stay home, Spell asked: “Could it be that it is worse than the people who have already contracted this virus and died?” 

He went on to tell worshipers that they had “nothing to fear but fear itself.” 

Some places of worship, however, have closed their doors amid the coronavirus pandemic. "Our parish staff stuffed over 3000 envelopes with blessed palms, and mailed them to our registered parishioners with live stream information," one Twitter user wrote.

While another worshiper added: This is not how I expected to spend #PalmSunday, but I am grateful to be safe at home with my family. This morning we are watching my local parish stream mass for us to watch from home. Wishing everyone a blessed Palm Sunday."

And at On Fire Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, Pastor Chuck Salvo held a drive-in service to ensure that people could maintain social distancing. 

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Source: Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The best way to prevent contracting or spreading coronavirus is with thorough hand washing and social distancing. If you feel you may be experiencing symptoms of coronavirus, which include persistent cough (usually dry), fever, shortness of breath, and fatigue, please call your doctor before going to get tested. For comprehensive resources and updates, visit the CDC website. If you are experiencing anxiety about the virus, seek out mental health support from your provider or visit NAMI.org.