WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — The COVID-19 Pandemic has made it more difficult for churches to gather.
Some host drive-in church services to adjust to social distancing guidelines.
But in a statement released ahead of Easter Sunday, the Wilmington Police Department says these gatherings could violate Governor Cooper’s stay-at-home order.
“We’re not talking about putting 500 people inside of the church here, we’re talking about a parking lot worship service where people will stay in their cars,” Reverend Dante Murphy said.
Reverend Murphy, a pastor at a church in Wilmington’s neighboring community of Hampstead, challenges that statement.
“What the attorney for the Wilmington Police Department portrayed to the citizens of this is that if you assemble for a drive in service, you are breaking the law,” he said. “That was just a false statement that should not have been made.”
Wilmington Police says if more than 10 people gathered in individual cars it would violate social distancing.
Murphy wonders why the multi-car argument isn’t impacting other businesses.
“If you’re going to tell the church that we can’t have more than 10 cars in our parking lot, then you’re going to have to go down the road and tell Lowe’s, you’re gonna have to tell Walmart, you’re gonna have to tell the grocery stores that they can’t have more than 10 cars in their parking lot either,” he said.
Murphy says he wants to keep his congregation safe and celebrate the special holiday.
“If there is a threat with one window rolled down in the parking lot, then I do want people to let me know,” he said. “I’m not one of those who are out here trying to put people at risk, but at the same time I don’t want common sense rights to be violated in this process.”
Wilmington Police Department says they will be releasing a clarifying statement later Thursday evening or early Friday morning.
The New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office says they reached out to the North Carolina Sheriff’s Association about this issue. The association reached out to Governor Cooper himself. They say Cooper says this does not violate the stay-at-home order as long as people remain in their cars.
Rev. Murphy will be hosting a drive-in sunrise service at Manhollow Missionary Baptist Church at 6:30AM Sunday, April 12 in Hampstead. He asks all attendees remain in their cars and only roll down one driver’s side window.