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Group of local pastors protest Gov. Kemp's orders to begin reopening Georgia, tell congregations to stay home

More than a dozen Macon-area pastors gathered Monday to express their public health concerns.

MACON, Ga. — The COVID-19 pandemic has caused folks to cancel a lot of things like sports, school, and church services. 

Georgia is one of the first states in the country to begin reopening, and it's created a lot of mixed opinions in the faith community.

About 15 Central Georgia pastors gathered outside Lizzie Chapel Baptist Church on Monday, protesting Governor Kemp's decision to allow restaurants, beauty salons, and churches to let people back inside. 

They cited inconsistent data reported by the state and a disproportionate number of African Americans and Hispanics contracting COVID-19.

"We stand today in solidarity with each other asking that we do not hastily open our churches, because social distancing is still in effect," Rev. Timothy French said.

"I bleed the blood of Jesus, but I also exercise common sense," Pastor Alfred Hazel said.

At the end of April, Governor Brian Kemp said churches could begin allowing their congregations back in the building if leaders followed sanitary and social distancing guidelines.

"Holding in-person services is allowed. Of course online, call-in, and drive in services remains a good option," Gov. Kemp said.

Rock Springs Church on Zebulon Road took Governor Kemp's advice, adapting to online services which has generated thousands of views.

Pastor Benny Tate says he knows congregation members are eager to return, but it will have to be done gradually.

"I don't think we need to social distance. I think we probably need to physical distance. But there's an element, the way God created us, we need interaction," Tate said. 

His team is working on eliminating church bulletins, creating one basket for church offerings, and adding services so that people can spread out.

"I want people to come to church when they are comfortable. I'm not convinced they can get a lot out of the worship or the preaching if they don't feel safe," Tate said. 

Others have already started that process, like members of Houston Road Church. They posted a video to their Facebook page last week explaining how their first Sunday back would work. 

"We're going to practice social distancing here in the sanctuary, so people will be 6-feet apart. We're going to be skipping rows, skipping pews," Pastor Billy Flowers said in the video.

The church encouraged people over 65-years-old, or those with medical problems, to stay home until mid-June when Kemp's latest executive order expires.

But its clear the the pastors who gathered in mass on Monday outside Lizzie Chapel do not feel the same way, instead warning everyone to stay home as much as possible -- especially on Sunday.

"We love to go to church. But we actually would like to keep people alive long enough so that we can save their souls," Pastor James T. Manns said.

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