Churches exempt from Holcomb’s tighter restrictions, but get warning about ‘Sunday spike’

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — On a statewide level, Gov. Eric Holcomb’s announcement Wednesday does not change anything for churches and places of worship. They were exempt before and they will be exempt on Sunday when the tighter restrictions begin. But that didn’t mean the governor and state health officials didn’t have some stern words for religious leaders and worshipers.

“They are still exempted, however, don’t get me started,” said Gov. Holcomb (R).

“There is a spike every week on Sunday, related to church events,” added Dr. Kristina Box, state health commissioner.

Government leaders did not hold back their message to church leaders Wednesday during the weekly press conference, while acknowledging the importance of religious activities.

“When we do gather to receive the word, which I can think of few things more important, that we do it safely,” Holcomb said.

“It is critical that individuals socially distance, wear their masks when they are singing and praising, that causes even more dispersion,” Dr. Box said.

The warnings were not a problem for pastors at Lakeview Church where the mask requirement is on the door coming in and the hand sanitizer jar is right inside.

“We believe in the guidelines that our governor has given us,” said Lead Pastor Ron Bontrager. “We think they’ve been extremely good.”

A church that pre-pandemic saw 1,200 people in two Sunday services is down to about 400 these days. But 600 or more watch remotely from home. That’s part of the reason the church spent $80,000 to upgrade cameras and the soundboard to make the experience much better.

In the sanctuary, every other row is blocked off and don’t forget your mask, an accessory modeled from the leadership here.

“I think masks are number one,” Bontrager said. “We all wear them as leaders.”

Pastor Bontrager lost a friend earlier this year who was a pastor of a small rural church in southern Indiana which was the site of an outbreak.

He hopes the governor’s words are heeded by others in ministry.

“I think the data bears it out. It’s incumbent upon us as pastors to not fight it,” Bontrager said. “It’s hitting small towns and I think it’s really an awakening for a lot of small churches that haven’t been following them. Just do it. It’s not hard.”

Gov. Holcomb said again Wednesday it’s usually not the church service or the wedding or funeral which is the problem. It’s usually the get-together immediately after.

Bontrager said at Lakeview, after services people usually have a few quick words but they tend to disperse pretty quickly. They keep their masks on with no hugs and no shaking of hands.