Chicago has begun fining churches for holding services.

“It’s hard to maintain your faith without a community,” Abigail Cimpean said. She’s among the many religious faithful in Chicago who have defied stay-at-home orders to attend church recently.

It’s not the same sitting at home and watching a sermon on the screen, she told The Epoch Times. “As a community, we lift each other up.”

The daughter of Pastor Florin Cimpean of Chicago’s Philadelphia Romanian Church of God, she’s grown up in the church.

Amid Chicago’s stay-at-home orders—which currently prohibit church gatherings of more than 10 people—Pastor Cimpean never stopped holding services.

He, too, grew up in the church. And his father was a pastor who disobeyed government orders to halt services. That was in Romania, and he was arrested for it.

The majority of his congregants are of Romanian descent, and many of them have firsthand experience of a crackdown on worship under communist rule; many of them fled to the United States in the 70s and 80s to seek freedom.

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While Romanian churches in Chicago have been especially vocal on the issue of limiting worship amid the pandemic, many non-Romanian churches also have been defiant.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has warned the growing number of churches that seek to hold in-person services that they will be fined. She ordered no-parking signs to be set up around houses of worship on May 17 to discourage congregants.

On May 18, Lightfoot held a virtual town hall tailored to members of black churches. Black people make up almost half of the reported COVID-19 deaths in Chicago.

“This has been a very difficult time, a particularly difficult time for people of faith across the city because we have not been able to come together and commune with each other in houses of worship,” she said at the meeting.

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“I talk with my mother every single day. She is a 91-year-old woman of faith. Part of our daily conversation is about when she would be able to go back to church,” Lightfoot said.

“Her church life is critically important to her health and well-being. And I know that’s true for literally millions of Chicagoans. But we also know that coming together in these times poses risks, risks that we shouldn’t be taking.”

Lightfoot said she wants to work with pastors to draft guidelines for reopening churches. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has placed gatherings of over 50 people, including in churches, in the last phase of his five-phase reopening plan.

That phase begins when a vaccine is developed, a treatment option is readily available, or there are no new cases over a sustained period.

The Chicago Tribune’s editorial board questioned Pritzker’s reopening plan in a May 6 editorial, saying that he is moving “the benchmarks for victory from bending the infection curve to defeating the virus altogether.”

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Abigail Cimpean and others among the 80 or so congregants who attended the service on May 17—the largest gathering at the church since the stay-at-home order started—spoke about the spiritual need for in-person gatherings.

Online Service Not the Same, Congregants Say
“I need to be fed by sermons,” Abigail Cimpean said. “It’s difficult for me to understand the Bible on my own.” Following the service, she said, “I feel His presence today.”

Tom Gobelman, 88, held a Bible in his hand as he stood at the church and told The Epoch Times that he was there as an act of civil disobedience, to stand up for the U.S. Constitution.

He isn’t a congregant of the church, but he was among several local residents who showed up in support of the church’s defiance.

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