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Billings churches ready to worship after governor begins reopening

Posted at 11:14 PM, Apr 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-23 01:14:58-04

Billings churches said they are preparing for worship this Sunday after Gov. Steve Bullock announced churches could start a phased reopening.

The governor's directive, announced Wednesday, allows for worship with strict physical distancing protocols.

About 166 churches in the Montana Pastors Network (MPN) may hold services, including churches with the Southern Baptist Church, the Free Evangelicals, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Great Falls-Billings.

The Congregation Beth Aaron Synagogue will not worship in person.

After weeks of online services, churches leaders in Montana say they're ready for worship on Sunday.

"We're very thankful that (the governor) has allowed churches to meet in groups of more than 10 as long as strict guidelines are in place," said Pastor Terry Forke, president of the Montana District of the LCMS.

"One-hundred-sixty-six some churches that signed the letter to the governor," Forke said. "I am in no way empowered or even inclined to speak for all of them. However, I think they're at least in general agreement that they would follow these guidelines."

Catholic churches in Billings also could be holding services on Sunday.

"A number of the pastors I've talked to are just really ready to find a way to open up their churches," said Bishop Michael Warfel of the Diocese.

The bishop expects Catholic churches to do the services in person.

It's important to have live worship, he said.

"People need to gather together," he said. "For Catholics, the masses, it's just vitally important."

Student Rabbi Erik Uriarte said Congregation Beth Aaron in Billings is not ready to open for services on Friday or Saturday.

"It's always going to better to be able to do something in person," he said.

"It's a very important cornerstone of Judiasm that health and safety is absolutely paramont over just about everything else," Uriarte said.

When they do return, they're all thinking about distancing and cleaning.

And they expect that those that are high risk may choose to not attend right away.