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Decatur church defies COVID rules, holds Sunday service
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Decatur church defies COVID rules, holds Sunday service

Salem 1

Salem Baptist Church Lead Pastor Derek Bradshaw is shown outside his Decatur church Sunday as congregation members — and many visitors — leave for home after the service. The church chose to have a regular in-church service, with reduced numbers and other restrictions, in spite of state COVID-19 rules forbidding such gatherings. 

DECATUR — Diagnosing original sin as a lethal spiritual virus and Christianity as the cure, Lead Pastor Derek Bradshaw welcomed a limited, masked, temperature-checked and socially distanced congregation to Decatur’s Salem Baptist Church on Sunday.

The church let in just a little more than 130 worshipers before locking the doors and turning many others away in a sanctuary that could hold some 500 in pre COVID-19 days. Senior citizen members of the congregation had been urged to stay home.

Even then, the church knew it was defying measures imposed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker that, until further notice, limit gatherings in religious services to no more than 10 to try and slow the spread of the COVID disease.

Bradshaw, whose church has canceled pretty much all other activities except now for the resumption of a service on Sunday, was unrepentant.

Entering the sanctuary to a standing ovation, he said: “The COVID virus is real but God is real and we want to please him and I’m so glad you decided to join us today to please the Lord.”

He told the congregation, which included many visitors who don’t normally attend this church, that those who seek to criticize Christians for carefully gathering in God’s name don’t understand the nature of faith. And he said he sees too many people throughout our state and nation who are in a state of “spiritual death.”

Bradshaw said our mortal lives have a "zero percent" survival rate and then we risk dying again, spiritually, from the original sin that is passed down to us like a virus. He said accepting Christ is the cure that will last for eternity.

He added: “We say church is essential and we need to gather together and we need to worship the Lord. People who are spiritually dead don’t understand that they have spiritual needs. While you may be very much alive physically, if you have not been born again, you are very dead spiritually.”

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Decatur police Chief Jim Getz had earlier said officers would not interfere on Sunday and there was no police presence at the church. Decatur City Manager Scott Wrighton had warned publicly that defying the governor’s orders could “endanger us all” but Bradshaw said he had since spoken with the city manager who acknowledged “spiritual" nourishment is as important as physical food.

“But I think spiritual food is more important,” the pastor added.

Speaking later, he said Wrighton claimed he had received a call from the pastor proclaiming and drawing attention to the church’s plan to open Sunday. Bradshaw said he never made such a call and had planned on keeping the event low-key.



“It was supposed to be for our members only,” Bradshaw explained. “So he is the one who blew this up, not me.”

Whatever the genesis for Sunday’s service, those who managed to get a seat on the pews were glad they did. “What I miss is seeing my friends here; they are my family, they are God’s family,” said Sue Ray, 72, a retired teacher. “And it’s more important to me than anything.”

Kellie Morrow was attending with husband Montana and their 7-week-old son Landon. She grew up in the church and now lives in Iowa and jumped at the chance to come back while on a family visit to Decatur.

“I’ve been following on Facebook and I wanted to come out and support them,” said Morrow. “You miss the warmth of church.”

Contact Tony Reid at (217) 421-7977. Follow him on Twitter: @TonyJReid

“The COVID virus is real but God is real and we want to please him and I’m so glad you decided to join us today to please the Lord.”

— the Rev. Derek Bradshaw 


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