CHICAGO — At least two Chicago churches defied public orders and held services Sunday.
One of them has filed a lawsuit challenging Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker’s stay-at-home order.
Metro Praise International church in the city’s Belmont-Cragin neighborhood held two in-person services on Sunday. One had around 60 people and the other had around 40, down for its normal of over 100.
“They were more spread out, there are hand sanitizers all around our building,” said Pastor Joe Wyrostek. “We did our best to make everyone feel like they could be there at whatever spectrum they were at.”
The pastor held a discussion online Monday for over four hours on this issue. He said the decision to open was based on science and constitutionally-protected religious freedoms.
On Sunday, Wyrostek offered hugs to those who wanted one.
“I said, ‘Some of you haven’t been, you know, haven’t had a human touch in a while,'” said Pastor Wyrostek. “If you just need a hug or someone to love on you, I’m willing to take that risk as well.”
The pastor said for seven weeks, he encouraged his members to stay home and socially distance, but now he says the time has come to change.
“Science and evidence, we are tracking the numbers, and we’re believing, with the facts that are presented to us that Illinois is ready to take steps to start opening like Indiana,” Pastor Wyrostek said.
Over in Albany Park, Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church in Albany Park also held services Sunday where reportedly more than 100 people attended.
Elim is one of two Chicago-area churches that haved sued the governor.
Pastor Christian Ionescu said restrictions will be put in place to protect people, but services will continue.
“Media analysis indicate that we are months away from phase four services with 50, or less in attendance. And at least a year to normality. This is insane,” he said. “Therefore, we concluded that the best restoration process has to be proposed decided upon and implemented by each individual church.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot criticized Metro Praise International for defying her and the governor’s orders.
“We know that gathering in congregate settings without appropriate protocols and social distancing is exactly the breeding ground for the virus, we’ve seen that happening in churches and funerals,” she said. “So we have to remain diligent.”
The pastor said if there was to be an outbreak, he would draw back on different things. He is willing to let his church be a control group.
“What we’re saying as Christians is we’re willing to be the control group and that’s why I think the disconnect is, because aren’t we all going to have to do this sooner or later,” Pastor Wyrostek said.
When asked if arrests may result from these services continuing, the mayor said it’s not her intention to arrest parishioners, but rather educate people into compliance.