Make your home page

Indiana governor lifting religious service restrictions, testing ‘control group’

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Some religious leaders are hesitant to resume in-person services despite the governor’s decision to begin lifting pandemic restrictions at places of worship.

Gatherings of any size will be allowed at religious services across Indiana beginning May 8, a move that provides the state with “a test or a control group,” Gov. Eric Holcomb said.

Distancing guidelines and recommendations to wear masks, provide hand sanitizer and ramp up cleaning protocol will remain in place.

Crowd restrictions will not be lifted at reception or visitation events held at religious establishments; gatherings cannot exceed 25 people.

During a virtual Statehouse briefing Monday, Holcomb suggested evaluating the relaxing of religious service restrictions after 14 to 21 days “to see… what effect it might have.”

“If we can manage this, this gives us a lot of confidence in other arenas as well,” he said, adding places of worship were “a good place to start” because he felt religious leaders would be “the most responsible” during his phased reopening plan.

Nathan Peternel, lead pastor at Life Church, said he was surprised by the governor’s decision to allow increased attendance at religious services while ordering businesses to reopen at reduced capacity.

“I’m glad to know that he trusts the clergy the way that he has,” Peternel told News 8. “But we’re in no rush.”

Life Church locations in Fishers, Noblesville and Indianapolis remain closed with no immediate plans to resume in-person services.

Staffers had ordered personal protective gear and discussed new church protocol in anticipation of eventually reopening. But the state relaxed gathering size restrictions before the supplies arrived and new policies were set.

“I don’t see us flying back [to in-person services],” Peternel said. “I think we’ll get back whenever we feel that we’re ready… Our job is to care for peoples’ spirits, their souls and their bodies.”

Record engagement on the church’s online platforms also lessened any haste to reopen. Weekly view counts on virtual services exceeded typical attendance at Life Church’s three locations combined, according to Peternel.

Joe Heerens, the governor’s general counsel, encouraged people at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 to stay home and access online worship services.

Religious leaders unsure of their organization’s ability to enforce distancing guidelines at in-person services are urged to keep their places of worship closed.