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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A national group of Christian healthcare workers and other faith-based groups are urging churches to return to online-only services as coronavirus numbers surge across the country.

The Christian Medical and Dental Associations released ‘A Plea to Our Churches’ last week, saying in part, “CMDA is saddened to learn not only that many churches have ignored our guidelines, but that congregants have become infected with SARS-CoV-2 as a result.”

The Oklahoma Conference of Churches, The Christian Church in Oklahoma and the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference of the United Church of Christ are among the groups pressing churches and pastors to stop in-person services for now.

“I fully agree that if it is possible for congregations to meet online, they should be doing so and doing so exclusively, particularly right now and in Oklahoma especially,” said the Rev. Dr. Lori Walke, lead pastor at Mayflower Congregational United Church of Christ.

These calls came at the same time as Victor Church in Tulsa gained national attention after hosting a crowded auditorium of worshipers singing with very few wearing masks.

“We’re a church,” said Victory Church Pastor Paul Daugherty. “We’re not going to reject people and push people out of the room just because they take their mask off.”

But the letter from CMDA makes it clear they feel this is not time to risk infecting others, writing, “As Christian healthcare professionals, we will voluntarily restrict our ‘freedoms’ for a time to help protect my neighbor.”

“It has been very disheartening and disappointing, really disappointing to see some of those major events,” said Walke, “but it is just as disappointing to hear about smaller congregations that are not taking the advice of our medical and science communities.”

Walke has been leading exclusively virtual services since March. She said she expects she will see more churches return to the attitude many of them held at the beginning of the pandemic when they moved meetings to online.

The CMDA said this move is to protect the entire community, not just church members, writing, “Restricting meeting for a season is not about fear of contracting the virus ourselves. Rather, it is about loving one another and minimizing risk to the vulnerable around us.”

“We know what the scientists and our medical experts are saying and that is to avoid large gatherings, and so that’s what our churches need to do,” Walke said. “But it’s even more than that. It’s about loving your neighbor, treating your neighbor as you would want yourself treated, loving your neighbor as yourself, and so to that end, we wouldn’t want to put anyone at greater risk from COVID than we want ourselves to be.”

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