BUTLER COUNTY, Ohio (FOX19) - Solid Rock Church continues to hold in-person services during the COVID-19 pandemic, though it issued a statement Saturday to explain measures it is taking in an attempt to mitigate the virus’s spread.
The Lebanon, Ohio-based church has been under scrutiny for continuing to hold in-person services during Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton’s statewide Stay-at-Home order.
Religious institutions are exempt from the Stay-at-Home order, but Gov. Mike DeWine has cautioned them against continuing to hold in-person services. Most churches in the state have complied, turning to live-streaming options weeks ago.
Meanwhile, Solid Rock Church continues to hold in-person services, as demonstrated by videos published on the church’s website March 22 and March 31 -- and as acknowledged by the church itself Saturday.
“We have scaled back our normal services; and there are not large numbers of worshipers in the facility, but we are open and continuing to practice and sustain our faith," the church says in a statement posted on its website.
The statement says the church “failed to fully communicate” and blames “misperceptions” for the backlash it has received.
It adds the church is large enough that its congregants are able to practice their faith while also practicing safe social distancing.
It also says it has provided additional cleaning and hand-sanitizing solutions and that its congregants are not shaking hands or hugging.
A full list of actions the church says it has taken is provided at the end of this article.
Butler County officials sought to pressure the church into ceasing its mass gatherings March 27 with a letter issued by Health Commissioner Jennifer Bailer.
The letter says the health district has received multiple complaints from the community regarding the church’s “continuation of large services."
The letter continues: “While we understand a church is exempt from the Mass-Gathering and Stay-at-Home (...) orders issued by Ohio Department of Health, Butler County Public Health officials highly encourage Solid Rock Church discontinue holding large mass gatherings and practice social distancing.
“Bringing together a large number of people during a pandemic increases the pace at which the virus spreads, overwhelming our hospital systems and posing a significant risk to members within the congregation.”
The Ohio Revised Code indicates health officials would have legal recourse against the church if the state’s Stay-at-Home applied to religious institutions, but it does not.
DeWine had this to say about the controversy last week:
“It is not a Christian thing to do. It is not in the Judeo-Christian tradition to hurt people. I’m sure no one intends to do that, but by bringing people together, you’re risking their health, you are risking your health, you are risking total strangers health.”
The full list of actions the church says it has taken is as follows:
- All staff temperatures are taken when they report to work each day and the temperature is documented;
- All kid’s church and youth activities have been cancelled;
- All youth groups have been cancelled;
- The church is cleaned daily;
- The church is cleaned by a commercial cleaner before every worship service and a chemical virus-killing spray is used;
- Before every worship service, announcements are made to stay 6′ away from the person next to you;
- Hand sanitizer is placed at each door that leads to the worship service;
- The church has opened the balcony for worship which has a seating capacity for 1,200 people to ensure the 6′ distance is maintained;
- The church has also opened the gym for worship to ensure people are spread out 6′ from one another;
- All nursery services for a worshiper have been cancelled;
- Sunday school has been cancelled;
- Signs are posted at each entrance door for worship reminding worshipers that Dr. Action and Governor DeWine wants 6′ separating all worshipers;
- The church reminds worshipers to remain 6′ apart;
- Offering plates are no longer passed through the worshipers;
- Communion is no longer provided to the worshipers in the normal fashion it was during worship service in the past;
- The outdoor worship space will be used beginning in April of 2020.
“We are grateful for the strong leadership of Dr. Acton, Lt. Governor Husted and Governor DeWine and pray for their continued wisdom,” the church’s statement says. “We continue to ask God to be with our members, our community, Ohio, our nation and our world.”