Grand Junction is opening up slowly and gradually, which is the way it should be, but something just doesn't feel right.

While Mesa County continues to follow the guidelines set down by Governor Jared Polis, it has been granted a variance by the state in the areas of gyms, churches, and restaurants. That means in some instances we are following the state guidelines just like everyone else in Colorado, but, in other cases, we are following guidelines that are in effect only in Mesa County.

I want to say how much I appreciate the leadership of our state and local officials as they work together to keep us all safe, healthy, and alive. It's a difficult time, to be sure, and there are no simple solutions. However, I am starting to have one issue.

I have been seeing a lot of discussion on social media about the disparity in policies concerning churches compared to businesses and even restaurants. I see growing resentment in the church community.

Restaurants and gyms are limited to 30% of their building/fire code capacity. Retail stores, including big box stores and grocery stores, are limited to 50% capacity, while churches are restricted to 50 people, regardless of the size of their building or sanctuary. It's easy to see why the church-crowd might be feeling a bit testy.

One Facebook post I read gave these figures as an example. The Fruita City Market is 37,000 square feet and can have 171 customers. Victory Life Church is 85,000 square feet, the Downtown Vineyard is 56,000 square feet, and both churches have sanctuary capacities of more than 600. Yet, they are allowed to only have 50 people inside the church at a time. If the same standard of 30% was applied to churches as it is to retail stores, both of these churches would be able to safely house more than 200 people. Why are churches under such greater restrictions?

Let me be clear. My faith is the most important thing in my life, but I am not one that believes the church is under attack or that religious freedoms are being threatened during the current crisis. Personally, I believe the intentions of policymakers are for the good of the people, but, in the process, common sense, perhaps,  has taken a leave of absence.

There is nothing magical or special about the number 50. It's just a random number that someone thought sounded good. And, yes, for a lot of smaller churches, 50 is better than nothing. Some churches can operate fine under these parameters, while others are small enough they could accommodate their entire congregation by conducting multiple services. But, for churches that run several hundred in attendance, allowing 50 people in the door is just a drop in the bucket, and in my opinion, is pretty pointless.

If churches have safe social distancing practices in place, I'm not convinced that attending church with a crowd is any more dangerous than a trip to Walmart. People need to spread out as much as possible in the sanctuary while churches implement a strict no handshake, no hugging policy. Perhaps we temporarily instill a no-singing policy in the congregation, since that would clearly be one way to potentially spread virus droplets. Worship teams on stage could still lead praise and worship, and the congregation could still worship, just maybe in a different way.

An additional measure we could temporarily implement would be to discourage groups of conversation, which are common occurrences before and after church services. At the conclusion of the service, people could be dismissed by row, much the same as it is done at funerals, with instructions to head straight to the exit without stopping to visit.

Would churches be willing to implement these extra policies if it means more people could attend the service? Would health officials be willing to broaden the capacity restriction so that more people could practice their faith in their respective houses of worship? Maybe there are other things churches could do to convince public health officials to ease up. Are these restrictions ideal? Certainly not, but it seems that church services for the most people possible is better than no church at all -- or church for 50 people in a congregation of several hundred.

I've seen comments on social media from some non-church goers questioning why people have to go to church to experience God. Well, we don't have to. We can enjoy our faith wherever we are, whether it's engaging in on-line worship services or simply connecting spiritually in a quiet time at home. But, this isn't about that. This is about treating churches the same as retail stores and businesses. There's a principle here.

The last thing I want to make clear is that I'm not advocating that churches defy the order and the guidelines as they currently stand. I'm not pushing for that at all.  In fact, I have great respect for the churches that comply with the guidelines even though they may not agree with them. Additionally, I have actually felt great outrage toward churches who have defied public health guidelines.

But this is Mesa County. Our COVID-19 numbers are extremely low and we should be able to take advantage of that. Yes, let's continue to have safe social distancing practices as we continue to open up, but it's time to get the Grand Valley back to church.

Let's do a poll right here. What do you think? Are churches being treated unfairly or do you believe that going to church presents a greater risk to our health than going to the store?

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