Hillsborough County churches can open their doors Sunday, many opt for online, drive-in services

Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne said there will be no church on Sunday but is taking a victory lap.

“The church is essential to every community,” Howard-Browne explained.

The pastor was arrested on Monday for violating Hillsborough County’s ‘safer-at-home’ order by allowing parishioners to gather by the hundreds at the River at Tampa Bay Church. Now, he claims the arrest has sparked a national debate.

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“I forced an issue nationwide on the First Amendment,” said Howard-Browne. “Since then, Texas opened up. Indiana opened up. Florida opened up.”

After some local leaders criticized Governor Ron DeSantis for flip-flopping on two different executive orders this week, the governor ultimately decided to label church gatherings as “essential.” It gave religious leaders the green light to go ahead with church service on Sunday without any restrictions.

Pastor John DeBevoise, with the Palma Ceia Presbyterian Church, is not changing his approach. 

“This Sunday will be the fourth Sunday at the Palma Ceia Presbyterian Church congregation is gathering virtually,” said DeBevoise.

DeBevoise said online service is the safest way to worship.

“Every public health official is telling us not to gather in any significant groups stay at home, so faith-communities should lead in terms of in terms of what’s good for the public welfare,” DeBevoise said.

Other spiritual leaders are deciding to do drive-in church services, kind of like drive-in movies back in the 60s and 70s. It’s a creative way for worship services to continue without spreading a deadly virus.

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