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Pence says lack of religious services has been 'burden'

URBANDALE, Iowa – Vice President Mike Pence spoke Friday to a group of faith leaders in Iowa about the importance of resuming religious services, saying the cancellations in the name of slowing the spread of the coronavirus have “been a burden” for congregants.

Pence spoke with the religious leaders and Republican officials during a brief visit to the Des Moines area. He was set to speak later in the day with agricultural and food company executives.

"It's been a source of heartache for people across the country," Pence told about a dozen people at the Church of the Way Presbyterian church in the Des Moines suburb of Urbandale.

Pence told the group that continued efforts to hold services online and in other ways “made incalculable difference in our nation seeing our way through these troubled times.”

Iowa is among many states where restrictions on in-person services are starting to ease as stay-home orders imposed to stop the virus are being gradually ended.

Gov. Kim Reynolds, who joined both of the state's Republican senators at the event, has instituted new rules that allowed services to resume with restrictions if they maintain social distancing and practice thorough sanitary cleaning.

At Friday's event, some religious leaders expressed hesitation at resuming large gatherings, while others said they would begin holding services in the coming weeks.

“We are pretty much in a position of uniformly believing that it’s too early to return to personal worship. It’s inadvisable at the moment particularly with rising case counts in communities where we are across the state,” said David Kaufman, rabbi of Temple B’nai Jeshurun in Des Moines.

The Rev. Terry Amann, of Church of the Way, said his church will resume services May 17 with chairs arranged so families can sit together but avoiding the temptation to shake hands or offer hugs. He said hand sanitizer will be available.

“These are challenges but we’ll be able to do it," Amann said. “We’re excited to get back together as brothers and sisters in Christ.”

The discussion of reopening in-person church services comes as a new poll by The University of Chicago Divinity School and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows just 9% of Americans think in-person religious services should be permitted without restrictions, while 42% think they should be allowed with restrictions and 48% think they should not be allowed at all.

Among Americans who identify with a religion, 45% say in-person services shouldn’t be allowed.

Pence left the meeting to meet with agriculture and food supply leaders. Iowa leads the nation in egg and pork production and is a top grower of corn and soybeans.

Meatpacking is among the state's biggest employers, and companies have been working to restart operations after closing them because hundreds of their workers became sick with the coronavirus.