MUSCATINE – With fears from the coronavirus (COVID-19) which has caused city and state officials to request people shelter in place, a simple Easter Sunday gathering became a point of contention for the Muscatine City Council during its regular meeting Thursday.
During the meeting, which was done over the computer on a conference line, the council eventually approved a request from Vineyard Church to use a city parking lot across from city hall for a service on April 12. The request was given to the council in the consent agenda and several of the council members said under normal circumstances there would not have been any issue. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, council members were concerned a gathering of this kind could be a risk to public safety.
“As things escalate and are taking on a life of its own, I’m concerned, even though it is a service where people are going to be sitting in their cars, I’m concerned for general safety,” council member Osmond Malcolm said. “I’m concerned fire department, ambulance, or if other people have to get involved, this suddenly went to a whole other level.”
Malcolm, an ordained minister, said many other churches were using social media and other avenues for services. “Having this in a parking lot, outside, during a pandemic is not a good idea,” he said.
According to the request forms, the church hopes to have a drive-in Easter service in the parking lot, which is also across the street from the church at East Third and Cedar. The service will include live music with an eight-person musical team and preaching which will be set up in front of the church and is expected to last about 30 minutes. The event will be a “drive-in” style event where people are asked to stay in their cars. About 20 cars are expected for the event, although the church asked for permission for up to 50.
Mayor Diana Broderson commented that the city regularly allows churches to have events on city property.
Parks and Recreation director Rich Klimes said he had been working with the church and assured the council the church is taking every step Gov. Kim Reynolds has requested to ensure safety of the citizens. He said The Rev. Ray Oehme has always worked very well with the city in the past. Klimes said he is “comfortable” with the situation.
“Normally I wouldn’t have any issue with this, but the sheer likelihood that this could increase exposure for folks is a big concern for me,” council member Kelcey Brackett said.
Council member Dewayne Hopkins, who attends Vineyard Church, said he doesn’t have a problem with the event. He asked if the city planned to use the property on Easter Sunday. Klimes said there is nothing scheduled to use the parking lot.
During the vote, Malcolm and Brackett voted against holding the event, with council member Nadine Brockert commenting she was “on the fence” about the event.
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