‘A church is hands on’: Why these Texas churches aren’t closing their doors

On San Antonio’s East Side, if Pastor Shetigho Nakpodia wants to tend to her flock, she has no choice but to go to them.

Much of what she does involves delivering food and serving meals to people in her community, many of them experiencing homelessness. As she puts it, her small church, called Redeemer’s Praise Church, is open 24/7 — coronavirus pandemic, or not.

“I never close,” she said.

As religious groups around the state move their services online in response to COVID-19 and local governments’ mandate stay-at--home orders, there are still some who say in-person gatherings are an integral part of their faith.

Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision Tuesday to call those religious services essential has bolstered many of them.

Pastor James Buntrock, associate pastor at Glorious Way Church in north Houston, says it’s part of their religious mandate to hold services, but they are also making adjustments.

“We will do our best to cooperate with social distancing and guidelines,” said Buntrock, who is among the religious organizations who have filed a petition against Harris County’s stay home order. “If we need to have multiple services to accommodate a larger crowd, we’ll hold people out.” The church plans to seat family units together and then put 6 feet of distance between them and other households.

The church plans to keep livestreaming services, but “we can’t do everything that the church needs to do through video,” Buntrock said. “A church is hands on.” And a church limited to livestream “is one power outage away and one internet outage away from being shut down entirely.”