First Baptist Church Santa Rosa

File Photo. First Baptist Church, Santa Rosa (pictured) was one of two BCNM churches that hosted "drive-in" church services on Sunday, March 22 in an attempt to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

ALBUQUERQUE (BNM) - During a Monday, March 23, press conference, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced a new Public Health Order issued by New Mexico Department of Health Cabinet Secretary Kathyleen M. Kunkel. 

Under the order, businesses deemed “non-essential” by the state health department are required to close, and most “mass gatherings” of five or more individuals are prohibited. The order was signed on March 24 and is valid until April 10, though it may be renewed and extended.

The order defines “mass gatherings” as “any public or private gathering that brings together five (5) or more individuals in a single room or connected space, confined outdoor space or an open outdoor space where individuals are within six (6) feet of each other, but does not include the presence of five (5) or more individuals where those individuals regularly reside.” During the press conference, the governor stated, “I am now further clarifying that we have reduced by half the gathering number.” 

According to the order, “‘Mass gathering’ does not include ‘individuals’ congregated in a church, synagogue, mosque, or other place of worship.” Also, family units are exempt from the prohibition inside their home where they “regularly reside.” The order also “advises” New Mexicans to “stay at home.”

The Baptist New Mexican emailed the governor’s office to clarify how the order affects churches and other religious institutions. BNM asked, “What will stay-at-home instruction mean for clergy and religious volunteers who gather in small groups at churches and other places of worship in order to record worship services for online distribution? Will they be allowed to continue doing so under the new stay-at-home instruction? Similarly, does this order bar in-person religious gatherings?” 

In response, a member of the governor’s staff reiterated the language of the order, saying, “Churches, synagogues, mosques or other places of worship are exempt from the 5 or more rule.” Later, the BNM reach out again to the Governor’s office and asked if “drive-in” churches services are exempt, also. The staff member responded, “Churches are exempt from ‘mass gatherings.’” Under the exemptions and clarifications, church leaders and volunteers may continue to gather in order to record or live-stream services or host “drive-in” services.

Since Southern Baptist churches are autonomous, they make their own decisions about their meetings and ministries. Though neither the Baptist Convention of New Mexico nor its missionary staff can make the decision for them, they can assist churches with their choices. 

The complete public health order is available at http://tiny.cc/publichealthorder

Daniel Porter is a staff writer with the Baptist New Mexican news journal and GoBNM.com, news and information outlets for the Baptist Convention of New Mexico.

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