Open Letter to Mayor Bowser: Reopen Churches


Pastor Brad Wells of Graceway Baptist Church is pictured in front of the Supreme Court buildings. Courtesy: GraceWay Baptist/B.Wells

June 11, 2020


Madame Mayor Muriel E. Bowser

1350 Pennsylvania Ave, NW

Washington, DC  20004


Dear Madame Mayor Bowser:

Thank you for your tremendous effort and carefulness in directing the District of Columbia safely through these treacherous and terrifying times. Our congregation has prayed daily for you to be granted wisdom as you make difficult decisions that will affect our lives for years to come.

Over the Memorial Day weekend, we paused to remember and honor all who have given their lives to grant us the liberties we have richly enjoyed –and often taken for granted.

One such liberty is the freedom to assemble for worship. It is a vital part of our national success and one I have revered my entire life.

The very word “church” is ekklesia in Greek and it means “an assembly of Christians gathered for worship in a religious meeting.”  Until the advent of COVID-19, I could count on one hand the times I have missed assembling with other believers on Sunday.

Yet, out of abundance of caution and respect for our leaders, our congregation has followed every guideline you have suggested. Our church services have gone entirely to live-streaming and Zoom meetings of less than ten people.

However, I feel I would be utterly thankless if I did not take this time of celebrating our blood-bought liberties to remind you and others that Church is an essential part of our existence. In fact, assembling for worship is specifically protected by our Constitution. Particularly, the First Amendment grants churches essential status with no exceptions.

Our church’s goal is to safely and selflessly love and serve our community. We can follow the same guidelines of grocery stores, home improvement stores, bicycle shops, and other essential businesses while fulfilling the higher mandate of our Lord to “not forsake the assembling of ourselves together.” (Hebrews 10:25)

One may ask, “Can you not fulfill this command virtually?”

Perhaps a call I received at two o’clock in the morning last week would answer this best. “Pastor Brad, I’m doing terrible. I need help.”

People are hurting, frustrated, and even suicidal when left alone for too many weeks. Physical proximity provides a connection that no internet server can imitate.

The Apostle Paul explains the need for physical gathering in a letter to new believers, “Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith.”

Any faithful church member can attest to the deeper spiritual work of actual assemblies. Call it synergy, connection, experience, interaction…God calls it church.

I would, therefore, humbly request that you reconsider allowing churches to resume worship, in the truest sense of the word, providing they follow all protective measures and requirements of other essential businesses.

The measures we would enforce are as follows:

  • Elderly and at-risk persons would be encouraged to continue to attend virtually.
  • All facilities must be cleaned and sanitized at the highest possible standards before and after each service.
  • Apart from immediate family members, attendees must be seated 6 feet apart.
  • Face coverings would be encouraged unless meeting outdoors.
  • All extra curricular small group activities would be suspended until social-distancing mandate is lifted.
  • No hand-shaking, passing of offering plates, communion, or other personal contact would be  allowed.
  • Sufficient hand sanitizer and disinfected hygiene stations available throughout facilities.

Thank you for your consideration of this request. My congregation will continue to pray for you as you maneuver this unprecedented time in our nation’s history.

By grace alone,

Pastor Brad Wells

Graceway Baptist on Capitol Hill

Editor Note: The Mayor’s office recommends gatherings be limited to 10 people or less during Phase I. Representatives of District government and the Mayor’s Office have said that an announcement and guidelines on Phase II will be issued no earlier than June 19. 

In their May 21 report The ReOpen DC Advisory Committee suggested that houses of worship should continue to abstain from in-person worship services and use virtual/online platforms until the District enters phase 3 of recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. Those recommendations were to advise DC legislation and are non-binding.

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