The Episcopal bishop of Michigan issued a directive Tuesday closing all churches in the Detroit-based diocese, including the broadcast of virtual services from most church properties.
As recently as Sunday many parishes had transitioned to broadcast services with mobile technologies.
The new directive from Bishop Bonnie Perry ends such services.
Perry, a former Roman Catholic and partnered lesbian consecrated as bishop in February, cited a “stay-at-home” decree from Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer as her basis for issuing the directive to parishes.
However, Whitmer’s decree — based upon wartime-era laws — explicitly allows churches to continue holding services, the Detroit Free Press reported.
“All virtual liturgies, which many of our congregation have so wonderfully offered over the past weeks, are no longer allowed on church property,” Perry wrote in the directive. “More clearly stated, this means that access to church property for the videotaping, live-streaming, or audio recording of worship services, bible study, musical programs, etc., is temporarily suspended.”
Whitmer had originally prohibited religious services in a decree issued last week, but exempted congregations after pressure from the Republican-controlled state Legislature. The exemption was carried over when the stay-at-home decree was issued Monday.
“This directive from the bishop is disingenuous as the state order is explicit in exempting churches and other religious houses of worship,” said Dennis Lennox, a Detroit-area Episcopalian who has previously served at the diocesan convention. “Under this order, the Episcopal presiding bishop, Washington National Cathedral and countless other parishes and worshipping communities, both within the diocese and across the country, would be banned from holding the increasingly popular virtual worship services.”
“People have a God-given right to assemble and worship,” said Lee Chatfield, speaker of the state House of Representatives and the son of a Baptist minister, after Whitmer issued the original exemption last week.
Other denominations in Michigan continue to allow church services to be broadcast. This includes Roman Catholic services led by Archbishop of Detroit Allen Vigneron.
The Episcopal Diocese of Michigan includes most of southeastern Michigan from the state capital of Lansing to Detroit and south to the Ohio border.
Perry became the top diocesan official following a decade of decline within the Episcopal Church, both nationally and in the diocese. In 2018, the latest year statistics are available, diocesan membership declined 5.8 percent, according to church data.