Cristian Ionescu, Elim Romanian’s pastor, hosted services at his Albany Park church in defiance of the stay at home order Sunday, May 10. Credit: screen capture

ALBANY PARK — A Romanian church on the North Side hosted two Sunday services, prompting Ald. Rossana Rodriguez (33rd) to plead with other religious leaders in the community not to defy the state’s stay at home order.

Elim Romanian Pentecostal at 4850 N. Bernard St. hosted a morning and evening service Sunday. Both were live streamed on Facebook. Cristian Ionescu, Elim Romanian’s pastor, said about 110 people attended each service.

The Albany Park church is among those suing Gov. JB Pritzker to challenge his stay at home order. Ionescu said he has no plans to back down and plans to keep holding services.

“I’m going to keep hosting mass unless I’m incarcerated, or the church doesn’t stand with me or God takes me,” Ionescu said after Sunday’s evening service.

Earlier, Ionescu posted a video in English on Facebook on Saturday and a blog post in Romanian on Sunday clarifying his defiance of the order.

In the video, he criticized Pritzker’s recently unveiled plan to reopen state services and businesses, which would not allow for gatherings of more than 50 people — such as a large church service — until the final phase.

Illinois currently is in Phase 2, which limits gatherings to people you share a household with and mandates face coverings and social distancing.

Ionescu complained the state is at least a year away from things getting back to normal. Expecting only 10 or 50 people to be able to enter a church at a time is “ridiculous” for a congregation like his that has about 900 members.  

“For us it is insulting, more than ridiculous,” Ionescu said in the video. “We’re conducting recordings for our own online services with more than 10 people being involved. Whether the government officials have no idea what a church public service really means, or they’re trying to tell us in a non-confrontational way that we’re still banned, I don’t know.”

Ionescu also said he is frustrated Pritzker didn’t include church leaders in the conversation regarding his plan to reopen the state. 

“Unfortunately this administration dismissed us as non-essential from the beginning. Then under intense public pressure and impending lawsuits they gave us the recognition, but only symbolically,” Ionescu said. “It doesn’t help us in the least.” 

Ionescu’s church joined Logos Baptist Ministries in suburban Niles to file a temporary restraining order against the governor Friday, according to WGN.

Because each church is unique, Ionescu said each congregation should develop and implement its own “restoration process” independent of the state’s. 

Ionescu said these decisions would be based in part on recommendations from the government and experts, but tailored to a church’s specific needs. 

“As citizens with parents and children ourselves, the government should inform us of the danger and give us the recommendations, provide guidelines, and trust us to do the right thing,” Ionescu said.

Churches are as essential as grocery stores or hardware stores, Ionescu argued. 

“We don’t offer food for body but offer food for soul, which is just as vital, and tools to build the house of God,” he said. “And we’re not asking for any special treatments or preference. We want the same restrictions in place that Home Deport or Walmart has right now.” 

Ionescu also criticized the government’s response to the virus as “wobbly” with a lot of “hesitation” and “confusion” in its attempts to get the pandemic under control, and claimed the stay at home order was trampling on the U.S. Constitution. 

“As far as we’re concerned, this should and will not stand without a challenge,” he said.

Ionescu said he had his church sanitized before Sunday’s services and had everyone’s temperature checked at the entrance. He also provided his congregants with masks, gloves and hand sanitizer, and put caution tape on the pews to ensure social distancing.

Congregates at Elim Romanian Pentecostal at 4850 N. Bernard St. hosted two services on Sunday. Both were live streamed on Facebook. Credit: screen capture

Ionescu declined to comment further on the pending lawsuit, but said he appreciated that local authorities did not try to stop worshippers from congregating.

“They stood down and didn’t act,” Ionescu said. “We are peaceful and we would not react in any belligerent way to them. Also, I think they quickly realized it was not good public relations for them to stop us. It would have been be a disaster for them if they did.”

But Rodriguez said this weekend she will intervene.

“If you are a religious leader, please don’t do this,” Rodriguez said in a Facebook post Sunday night. “I just had to speak with another Pastor in the ward to stop services and follow the Stay at Home ordinance. I will be contacting this Pastor and making sure it doesn’t happen again.”

She also asked neighbors to reach out to her office if they know of other churches holding services in the community, so that her staff could ask them to stop and obey follow the stay at home order. 

Rodriguez was not available for further comment Sunday.

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