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Local churches welcome Inslee easing worship restrictions

by CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE
Staff Writer | December 24, 2020 1:00 AM

MOSES LAKE — Gov. Jay Inslee’s announcement Monday raising the limits on the number of people who can gather in churches for worship is being welcomed by local religious leaders.

“Not a huge amount of change, but it will help us out,” said Monsignor Robert Siler, a spokesperson for the Roman Catholic Church’s Yakima Diocese. “The only Catholic church in Grant County large enough to increase their limit from 200 is Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Moses Lake.”

Inslee recommended, instead of restricted, the limit for indoor congregational worship from 200 or 25% of a church’s capacity, whichever was less, and allowed for unlimited outdoor worship, with a “recommended maximum” of 200 for both indoor and outdoor services.

Worshipers would still be required to wear face covering and maintain a six-foot social distance, according to the guidelines. Congregational singing indoors is also still prohibited, but solo singers can sing indoors and congregations may sing outdoors so long as face coverings are worn.

Ryan Tolley, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Moses Lake Stake, said a typical ward — what the church calls its congregations — is around 125-200 people, and wards have been split in half for the length of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It would allow us to meet together,” Tolley said.

Siler said the church is revising its guidance for parishes as they prepare to celebrate Christmas. For example, Our Lady of Fatima is holding two Christmas Eve masses (one in English, another in Spanish) and three Christmas Day masses (English, Spanish, and bilingual), and the governor’s announcement is giving priests there an opportunity to allow more people to attend, Siler said.

COVID-19 prompted the diocese to tell its priests to get creative, Siler explained.

“Our Lady of the Desert Parish in Mattawa has a very small church,” he said. “The pastor there, Father Alejandro Trejo, has been celebrating Mass in the partially enclosed entryway, with people staying in their cars and listening through FM transmitters.”

Ryan Tucker, an attorney with the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is suing Inslee over worship restrictions on behalf of Christ’s Church of Mt. Spokane in Mead and Westgate Church in Edmonds, said Inslee was more generous to liquor stores and marijuana shops during the COVID pandemic than he was to churches.

“There is no constitutional right to cannabis or alcohol, but there is one that protects attending worship services,” Tucker said. “We’re grateful the governor has acknowledged our clients’ First Amendment freedoms.”

The announcement, Tucker added, is “good news for all Washingtonians.”

Also on Monday, Inslee raised restrictions on indoor and outdoor wedding and funeral attendance to 30 guests, 25% of maximum capacity for counties in Phase 2 and 50 guests or 25% of capacity for counties in Phase 3.

Wedding receptions are limited to three hours, with one-hour rehearsals “limited to the couple and their wedding party, the couple’s parents, the officiant, and any necessary vendor.” No rehearsal dinners are permitted.

(The original version of this story incorrectly spelled the last name of Ryan Tolley, the president of the Moses Lake Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.)