Chicago Churches Continue to Violate Stay-at-Home Orders, Fear City May Shut Them Down

A pair of Chicago churches once again violated limitations on gathering sizes and fear the city may shut them down

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Several churches across Illinois are continuing to open their doors in defiance of Illinois and City of Chicago orders limiting gathering sizes amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Metro Praise International Church in the City’s Belmont-Craign neighborhood welcomed church-goers for the second weekend in a row on Sunday.  The passionate parishioners say they should be allowed to practice their religion at in-person services.

“We should have the right to go to church and practice our religion, our beliefs, just as much as anyone has the right to go feed their soul, their bodies, at Walmart with food,” said parishioner Albertina Cruz.

Under the state's “Restore Illinois” plan, religious services with 10 or fewer people are currently allowed, but gatherings of 50 or fewer people will not be allowed until Phase Four of the plan. 

Metro Praise International’s Pastor Joe Wyrostek said he’s received a letter from the city’s health department which threatened “summary abatement” if they continue to hold services at capacities great than 10.

“We are very disappointed with all of this, including not being considered as essential in the beginning, as a church,” said Wyrostek.

Meanwhile, Pastor Cristian Ionescu of Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church in Albany Park said he received the same letter. He has sued Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and said he considers the city’s threat of summary abatement to mean padlocking doors or even demolishing his church.

“There is not going to be a stand down on our part,” said Ionescu. “It’s only the city that escalates. I wonder, if they threaten us with such extreme measures, what else is left?”

Chicago businessman Dr. Willie Wilson, who previously announced he will pay up to $1 million in fines for Illinois churches that are reopening, said he maintains his support for houses of worship that follow CDC guidelines.

“That is uncalled for especially when you can let the other places open up, big box stores,” said Wilson. “You can let the marijuana place open up.”

Last week, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot requested that churches wait to hold services until she slowly reopens the city in June.

Lightfoot said that she's focused on making sure people can celebrate their faith in a safe way, and discussions are underway regarding particular traditions that could spread the virus like singing or communion.

"I don't know about you, but when I sing, I'm expressive, and droplets are coming out of my mouth, I may be sweating," she said. "...When we talk about passing the collection plate. Well, how do we do that in a way that is safe?"

Another concern, Lightfoot said, is that the faith community is often made up of elderly individuals and those who may have underlying medical conditions.

"No one wants to do a...service, if you will, and put people at risk," the mayor said. "...We have made a difference in saving lives in the city, because people have understood the need to adhere to the guidance."

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