Churches deemed essential in Gov. Abbott’s order, but some remain online

Coronavirus

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Governor Greg Abbott’s executive order went into effect midnight Thursday. It implements a 30-day statewide mandate requiring all Texans to stay home unless involved in essential business.

The list includes healthcare, law enforcement and first responders, food, critical infrastructure and public transportation. Abbott’s list deemed religious worship as essential, as well.

Abbott added he wants to encourage churches to continue providing services online. He said if people need to meet, they should follow the federal guidance which restricts gatherings of 10 or more people. In a Texas Tribune article, some state lawmakers expressed concerns.

Neither Austin nor Travis or Williamson counties deemed churches as essential. Hays County did include churches as essential businesses in its order. However, some church leaders in Austin said they started moving into a virtual setting since mid-March when the city banned gatherings of 250 or more people.

“The format is different, the message is the same,” David Haney, senior pastor at Riverbend Church said “Even though the remote sort of experience is less than ideal for us, I think it’s the honorable thing to do.”

Haney is not alone. Those at Gateway Church also moved its services online. Combined both churches serve around 10,000 families. While Haney said he’s “flattered” the governor considers them essential, both Haney and Gateway Church’s Senior Pastor, John Burke, expressed that as much as the community wants to get together now is not the time.

“This is our chance to care more about others more than our own freedoms, we have freedoms but we can also use those freedoms in a way that causes harm to others or we can limit our freedoms out of love for others,” Burke said.

Both pastors said they will continue to be there for the community — virtually.

“Churches exist because of the generosity of the community,” Haney said, and during this time many religious organizations have turned to collect online offerings.

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