May 24, 2020
Solid Rock Baptist Church in Berlin, Camden County reopened its doors on Sunday for in-person services in defiance of New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order banning indoor gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The decision to reopen its doors comes after Co-Pastor Charles Clark III wrote a letter to Murphy urging him to declare houses of worship like Solid Rock Baptist Church “essential” and permitting such places to resume in-person services.
“Solid Rock Baptist Church has a positive impact on Camden County,” Clark III wrote. “For thirty-eight years, our church has helped members of our community with countless physical, mental, emotional, social, financial, and spiritual problems. Our church is essential. The decision to leave church off of the essential list was incorrect. Please correct this immediately and place churches on the essential list.”
Clark III’s letter to Murphy was then followed up this past week with another letter—this time from Clark III’s team of attorneys—informing the governor of Solid Rock Baptist Church’s plans to reopen this Sunday and urging Murphy to reconsider his position over services held inside houses of worship.
Before reopening its doors to parishioners on Sunday, the church issued a number of social distancing guidelines that it would enforce upon the resumption of in-person services in order to keep people healthy and safe as they gather. Those guidelines included disinfection of the facility, required wearing of face coverings, having temperatures taken upon entry, and socially-distanced pew seating.
Along with banning both private and public gatherings of more than 10 people across the state at the height of the coronavirus outbreak, Murphy instituted a stay-at-home order that is in effect until further notice.
Murphy has now permitted outdoor public and private gatherings of no more than 25 people to resume, meaning that outdoor church services can occur. However, social distancing must be practiced and there must be clear markers to demonstrate said guidelines.
Indoor private and public gatherings still cannot exceed more than 10 people, Murphy said.
The reopening of Solid Rock Baptist Church comes just days after President Donald Trump deemed all churches and houses of worship "essential" and told governors that they should be reopened immediately.
The CDC has issued health and safety guidelines for religious services to follow in order to keep both attendees and staff from contracting the virus. Those guidelines can be found here.