SAN TAN VALLEY, AZ — UPDATE: After this story aired on Thursday, LifePoint church has reversed course and says it will hold its services online only due to community feedback. Click here for their latest statement.
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A San Tan Valley church has decided to host Easter services, but in a time when social distancing is essential.
Are they taking a risk with the lives of their congregation members and their community?
“I’ve got people I love who have attended our church and don’t agree with it, they aren’t happy we’re doing it,” said Pastor Nathan Bentley of LifePoint Church that serves a congregation of more than 1,000 members.
Pastor Bentley knows what you’re probably thinking.
But, just as many oppose LifePoint Church in San Tan Valley hosting Easter services, others feel the opposite.
“There are people who when they see me or have reached out to me, are in tears thanking me, so beyond grateful so I have to somehow balance those two responses,” said Bentley.
A balance of faith and prayer in the face of staggering uncertainty.
A decision that didn’t come easy.
“The isolation’s taking its toll for sure, as it is all over the county,” said Bentley.
Bentley says the church does not intend to profit off the service and will not be passing out an offering plate.
He’s heard from community members battling depression and anxiety as the coronavirus continues to snatch the lives of our neighbors and loved ones.
“I’m talking probably more than 300 calls over the last month from people saying when can we meet again,” said Bentley.
They’ve continued to host services online.
But for this Sunday, Easter Sunday, they’ll be hosting a gathering of nearly 300 people on the outside lawn of the complex.
Each family carefully positioned at least six feet apart under the watchful eye of off duty police officers, nurses and church volunteers.
“Our leadership will be wearing masks, those who are helping people to their spots,” said Bentley.
They’ll also hand out 100 masks made by a church member to those who want them.
Not nearly enough to cover everyone but they hope the rest will bring their own.
Communion will be taken in single sanitized servings that restrict contact.
“We want to protect those who are most at risk so we’ve asked them to stay home, we’ve asked those who are living with anybody who is in the at risk population to stay home cause we’re going to be live streaming the service as well,” said Bentley.
“The sheriff speaking to the Pastor went line by line through the guidelines and what was required for them to have such an assembly,” said Pinal County Chief Deputy Matthew Thomas.
The Pinal County Sheriff’s office is working closely with the church.
They say while they won’t be policing the guidelines, they expect them to be followed.
“If they choose to not follow that then there are always consequences that can happen,” said Thomas.
We went to Pinal County Public Health with questions about the safety surrounding the service but they refused our interview request. Only referring us to their guidelines which the church seems to be following.
But without any type of oversight, county leaders will now have to pray everything goes according to plan.