MEDFORD, Ore. -- Bethel Church at Vista Pointe in Medford is keeping its doors open, despite restrictions from Governor Kate Brown's statewide two-week "freeze."
The mandate limits worship services to 25 people indoors and 50 outdoors.
Pastor Tim Olson tells NewsWatch 12 that 25 people in their sanctuary equates to less than five percent of their building capacity, and the restrictions would completely close the church again. He says they have to factor in their ushers, greeters and production crew.
Since stores can operate at 75% capacity, Olson says churches are being discriminated against.
"We try to be as law abiding as we can, and we teach that to our people, but we also believe that there's a line,
Olson said. "And we believe that line has been crossed by this last mandate."
Olson says the Bethel Church Board unanimously voted on November 16th to keep their doors open.
The church has around 500 members. Olson says he doesn't expect more than 100 people to attend worship services each week, since most have already chosen to watch it online during the pandemic.
They're also opening a second venue.
"We've asked anybody, you know, if you've got symptoms at all, or even anybody in your household has any kind of symptoms right now, 'Hey, it's better just to stay home. Once you get better, come back to church,'" Olson said.
Olson says they haven't seen anybody who's gotten COVID-19 from Bethel Church.
"I'm sure like any other church, we probably also have members that wish we would have gone online only," Olson said. "You know, they might take that stance, but for the most part the feedback we've gotten has all been positive."
He says the decision to keep their doors open isn't out of defiance, but instead it's because everyone needs access to indoor worship services. Olson says people need to worship and pray together, and the church doesn't want to take that away from them.
"We care about people's physical health, but we also care about people's lives -- their spiritual health, their emotional health," Olson said. "Because people are so isolated, a lot of people feel really lonely. They feel anxious. Depression we know is on the rise, addictions are on the rise, suicides are on the rise."
Olson says all regular COVID-19 safety measures are still in effect, including the video feed option in their chapel, which he says allows for more physical distancing.
When it comes to enforcement, local police say they'll request voluntary compliance, and only issue criminal citations as a last resort.
He says they are concerned about a possible citation, but they already weighed that cost. Olson says he hopes it doesn't come down to that for Bethel Church.
“It would be sad for local law enforcement agencies to be citing churches for just having church, but if it happens -- it happens," Olson said.
Olson says they're standing together with many other churches in the community that have made the decision to remain open.
"I know from some people's perspective, it can look like churches are being uncaring, but the reality is, churches are not uncaring," Olson said. "Most of us, we're doing good in our community."