Tampa Bay area places of worship react following President Trump’s essential declaration

Coronavirus

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – As President Trump declared houses of worship essential, the senior pastor at Hyde Park United Methodist tells 8 On Your Side his church is still months rather than weeks away from reopening its doors.

“Do no harm and love your neighbor,” Rev. Magrey deVega said of the values guiding him during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He added that he is leaning on guidance from the leadership of the United Methodist Church in Florida.

“We are basing our phases of reopening on health statistics, on data,” Rev. deVega said.

Rev. deVega said while parishioners from his church remain physically apart, they will continue to stay connected through prayer and bible study online.

“We’re discovering that folks are joining us not just here in the Tampa Bay area,” he said, “but literally all over the world.”

Starting next weekend, the Diocese of St. Petersburg is allowing each parish – at its own discretion – to reopen for public Sunday mass.

“We are called to be stewards of our health,” Bishop Gregory Parkes said in a video released on the diocese’s social media pages.

In the video, the bishop explains that the Catholic Church is promoting limits for social distancing and frequent sanitizing.  

“If you are at greater risk due to age, illness or other health conditions, please do not come to mass,” Bishop Parkes said in the video.

Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne argued the church is “essential” when he defied stay-at-home orders and hosted large gatherings in late March at The River at Tampa Bay Church.

Charges have been dropped since his arrest made national headlines. On Facebook, he announced a week from Sunday he plans to start holding services outdoors.

“This is a hard decision for every congregation to make,” Rev. deVega said, adding he’s in no rush to reopen his church during the pandemic.

“We simply can’t imagine doing worship right now when there’s a risk associated with the simple act of singing,” he said.

President Trump said the CDC is issuing guidelines for how churches and places of worship can safely reopen.

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