Fort Smith, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — A new statewide mask mandate goes into effect Monday, but some institutions are exempt from Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s executive order. Churches are among that crowd, and a Fort Smith pastor said he plans to follow guidelines throughout the emergency declaration.
Ryan Rose is the associate pastor for Evangel Temple in Fort Smith, and he said the first question he had after Hutchinson announced the order last Thursday was simple: how does this affect churches?
“I didn’t know who, what, when, where, how,” Rose said.
Places of worship are exempt from the mandate, meaning they don’t have to require mask wearing during services. The executive order still encourages churchgoers to wear masks.
“We really didn’t want to have to dictate to our people,” Rose said.
At Evangel, the 9 a.m. Sunday service requires masks for those in attendance.
“That’s from door greeter all the way to our staff, if they’re not speaking on stage,” Rose said.
Other services leave it up to the congregants.
“We continue to weigh the balance of caution and preparation and then also individual freedoms,” Rose said.
Those who don’t feel comfortable attending church services that don’t mandate mask wearing should find out if their places of worship provide online streams through social media or a website, Rose said.
“You need to do what you feel is best for you and your family,” Rose said.
Evangel Temple will continue to follow the governor’s guidelines, Rose said. Church leaders don’t plan on crafting a mask mandate, but they’re discussing how to address the subject if it comes up down the line.
“You have people from different perspectives in our congregation, and they’re finding ways to worship together,” Rose said.