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Carmel Interfaith Alliance recommends against services this weekend

CARMEL, Ind. (WISH) — While Governor Eric Holcomb has lifted some restrictions on religious gatherings this weekend and some do plan to meet, others are still against group gatherings this soon after the end of the stay-at-home order.

One is the Carmel Interfaith Alliance, a group of 30-40 religious organizations in Hamilton County. Its president, Rabbi Dennis Sasso, spoke to News 8 after releasing a statement on behalf of the alliance. It reads in part:

“We believe in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, that it is an act of faith is to remain physically apart. Large in-person gatherings pose too great a risk to the common good, and our faith traditions can, and should, withstand this disruption to our practices. […] We urge congregations to refrain from in-person religious gatherings, including worship. Decisions to return to in-person gatherings should be based on science, the best practices recommended by public health officials, and in consultation with the leaders of our faith communities.”

The full statement is attached below.

“It comes from a place of faith,'” said Rabbi Sasso. “We believe the principles of health and preservation of life are religious values and we will keep faith with one another and that we will return to face to face programs when it safe to do so.”

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Governor Holcomb limited gatherings to 25 people as of May 4, but allowed religious groups to gather in larger numbers as of May 8. He called religious groups “control groups,” saying the state would be monitoring any changes in COVID-19 cases that may be connected to these gatherings.

“We are concerned of the terminology that places of worship can be control groups of the implementation of a reentry or reopening program. We rather would like to see the controlled recovery,” said Sasso. “To that end, we don’t have specific determinations as to when this might happen but we are conscious that it should happen slowly and progressively.”

Other religious organizations disagree, saying it’s time to start gathering together, healing and safely providing economic, social and spiritual nourishment.

News 8 spoke with leaders of Harbour Shores Church in Cicero who say they’re offering in-person services this Sunday, and are encouraging people to sit six feet apart and wear masks. They’re also only filling the building to 50%, encouraging high-risk visitors to stay home and participate via live stream, and will not have childcare or youth services.

Mt. Tabor Baptist Church in Lebanon and Our Father’s House in Avon will also hold services with social distancing guidelines in place. Thursday, News 8 spoke with the pastor of Cornerstone Lutheran Church on his decision to reopen this weekend.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in all central Indiana counties will not hold services, citing a need for clearance from worldwide church headquarters.

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett announced this weekend in Marion County, religious services are still banned as part of the city’s extended stay-at-home order.

Several Marion County groups were already planning virtual services before the Mayor’s ban, including Second Presbyterian Church, Masjid al-Fajr Mosque, First Baptist Church of Indianapolis, The Hindu Temple of Central Indiana, Our Lady of Lourdes and Hebrew Congregation Beth-El Zedeck.

Some issued statements, attached below.

Implications to Indianapolis Area Mosques of Governor Holcomb’s Roadmap to Reopen Indiana

In light of Governor Holcomb’s multi-stage plan for reopening the state, religious institutions are left with a decision to make regarding their plans for resuming congregational services during the reopening plan. In response, a committee of medical doctors in the Muslim community of Indianapolis developed a medical advisory regarding the risks of relaxing the pause on congregational religious services in the Indianapolis area mosques and appropriate measures to control them.

The committee’s assessment is that the risks associated with congregational religious services remain too high for resuming them at any level at this time. The COVID19 caseload and the rate of new cases remain high and, although not accelerating, is not declining. The CDC recommends relaxing social distancing only upon 14 days of decline in new cases. Islamic religious services, performed in closed prayer halls in close congregant proximity, is bound to cause significant spreading of COVID19. No level of precautions and use of personal protective equipment can make this risk low enough to be acceptable at this time.  Therefore, the committee recommends extending the pause on all congregational services, including daily congregational prayers, Jumaa prayers, and Eid prayers, at least for a few more weeks.

The experience during the first few weeks of the state’s reopening plan can offer critical data to reassess the contagion risk and the level of preparedness of the state to test for COVID19, trace contacts, and provide an adequate capacity of health care facilities to manage the cases. Only then can the recommendations above be revisited.
This assessment will be revisited after Eid-ul-Fitr inshaAllah.

The Hindu Temple of Central Indiana has a COVID-19 task force made up of our community’s leaders which includes health experts and religious leaders. The Temple has decided that in order to ensure the safety and health of our membership we will not be opening for any services for at least the next several weeks.  After this time we will evaluate how and when an opening of the Temple may occur.  We continue to engage with our congregations online and through virtual streaming of rituals and services Anita Joshi, MD Community Liaison for the Hindu Temple of Central Indiana

Dear Members of our Faith Communities and Citizens of the State of Indiana:

In light of Governor Holcomb’s recently announced plan (May 1, 2020) to start reopening the State, and in affirmation of statements issued by other faith communities, we offer the following Pastoral Response:

As people of faith, we believe in the common good, strive to serve, and pray for one another. We are leaders of various religious communities, living in extraordinary times, acknowledging our responsibility to be faithful, forward-thinking, and safety-conscious.

We believe in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, that it is an act of faith is to remain physically apart. Large in-person gatherings pose too great a risk to the common good, and our faith traditions can, and should, withstand this disruption to our practices.

Therefore, out of these convictions, and in response to our governor’s reopening plan:

We encourage all congregations, their leaders, and their members to make safety and well-being of each other, those at particular risk, and those in their broader community, their greatest priority.

We urge congregations to refrain from in-person religious gatherings, including worship. Decisions to return to in-person gatherings should be based on science, the best practices recommended by public health officials, and in consultation with the leaders of our faith communities.

We affirm the Governor’s statement that, “We need you to keep your congregations safe,” and his preference that religious communities “continue to hold virtual… services.”

We encourage continued creativity in religious expression, and we join together to lament, to grieve, and to honor the ways in which we are all changed by this crisis.

We affirm the ways in which faith communities are supporting essential workers, those most at risk, and their constituents.

We are inspired by the many ways faith communities have expressed hope, shared resources, and cared for the vulnerable and those facing financial hardships.

We trust that persons of faith will hold fast to the common good, keep up the work, and prayerfully walk alongside one another during times of trial and times of joy.

We make these statements as an act of faith, trusting that we need not gather to be together, believing we will be together again, and fully convicted in keeping one another safe from harm.

Until we meet again…

May it be so.

Carmel Interfaith Alliance Executive Board

President, Rabbi Dennis Sasso; Vice President, Lori Bievenour; Secretary/Treasurer, Shelly Wood; Interim Executive Director, Jerry Zehr

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