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Mayor Still Working Out Plan to Reopen Chicago Churches as Some Vow to Hold Services

Two Chicago churches were fined for holding services in violation of Illinois' stay-at-home order

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While the city of Chicago continues to work with faith leaders to draw up a plan for reopening churches, two pastors have promised they’ll still hold services in violation of Illinois' stay-at-home order and face the possibility of additional fines.

At a news conference Thursday afternoon, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she has had "very good, candid conversations" with faith leaders and stressed that the ritual of a church service is different from reopening a restaurant, as some have compared it to.

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.  

Two churches, Metro Praise International Church in the city's Belmont Craigin neighborhood and Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church in Albany Park, were issued citations earlier this week for violating the state's stay-at-home order.

Pastor Joe Wyrostek of Metro Praise International Church said he was issued two disorderly conduct citations although he and his three hundred parishioners have been following rules of social distancing.

Cristian Ionescu, pastor of the Elim Romanian Pentecoastal Church, has filed a lawsuit against Gov. J.B. Pritzker over the restrictions on religious services.

As some churches in Chicago reopen despite the governor’s stay-at-home order, protesters on Sunday said in person services are causing high risk to neighbors. Lexi Sutter reports.

"If that’s what it takes to continue our mandate to serve our people, then it’s a price we are willing to pay,” he said, referring to the fines.

Chicago businessman Dr. Willie Wilson announced Wednesday that he will pay the fines for each of the churches, saying that their First Amendment rights are being violated.

The mayor has 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?"

While Chicago churches remain closed during the coronavirus pandemic, some church leaders told NBC 5 they believe the city is infringing on their religious freedom. NBC 5's Regina Waldroup reports.

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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