May 20, 2020 UPDATE: Under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s New York Forward plan, the Governor intends to lift COVID-19-related restrictions on business and other activities through a four-phase, region-by-region process. On May 19, 2020, New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms joined pastors across the State of New York in calling upon Gov. Cuomo to (a) lift restrictions on worship services in regions that have not been severely impacted by the pandemic; and (b) lift restrictions on worship services as part of Phase Two, not Phase Four, of New York Forward in other regions. On May 20, 2020, Gov. Cuomo announced that religious gatherings of up to 10 people would be allowed beginning on May 21, 2020; however, the Governor added that large religious services would not be allowed to resume until a given region of the state had reached Phase Four of the New York Forward plan. Gov. Cuomo has encouraged faith communities to consider holding parking lot services or drive-in services.
On March 31, 2020, New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms wrote to Gov. Andrew Cuomo to advocate for the needs of New York’s evangelical churches during the coronavirus crisis.
In our letter, NYCF asked that the Governor consider creating an exception to current limits on public gatherings by allowing drive-in movie theaters and other venues with large parking lots to be rented and used for church services. We understand the special challenges that the COVID-19 epidemic poses for churches. Not all believers have access to the internet, and it is difficult to maintain Christian community when we are not gathered in the same physical space. NYCF believes that if congregants were to remain in their vehicles, holding church services at drive-in theaters and large parking lots might be a viable temporary solution for some upstate churches that wish to gather in one place while practicing social distancing.
To date, NYCF has not received a response to our letter. We will be sure to alert our friends and supporters if we do receive a response. In the meantime, we would recommend that churches interested in holding services in large parking areas contact the health departments in their respective counties to request permission to do so. (Absent action from the Governor, renting drive-in movie theaters may not be a viable option.) We also urge churches and believers to cooperate with the authorities in regard to public gatherings and social distancing while remaining connected with fellow believers by using the available technology. Let us not allow our zeal to worship the Lord, our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ, or our (understandable) frustration and impatience with our situation to lead us to endanger our health or the health of our neighbors.