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Religious leaders urge Gov. Mills to allow more than 50 people at services

Maine is the only New England state that doesn't allow a percent of occupancy in houses of worship. Instead, it's 50 people no matter the side of the building.

MAINE, USA — Places of worship in Maine are only allowed to have 50 people inside during services under Governor Janet Mills' COVID-19 guidelines. For some religious leaders, that's not enough.

"We gotta reconsider the number 50," Fr. Dan Greenleaf from Prince of Peace Parish said.

Fr. Greenleaf has three churches in his parish. One of which holds more than 2,000 people. He said it's challenging as a priest to gage the congregation and by how they're responding with few people in a large building.

He added it's also hard to decide who can and cannot go to church.

"So it's a big ordeal it's an entire day Wednesday and then emailing them all or calling them just to tell them they're allowed to come," he said.

Janet Viere has been attending church at one of Fr. Greenleaf's facilities for about 10 years.

"Our faith is essential," she said.

She wrote a letter to Gov. Mills, urging her to change the rule from 50 people to a percent of what the church can hold.

"We're made for community and that's what religion does, that's what our faith does," Viere said.

Maine is the only New England state that has a number limit instead of a percent limit.

Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont allow up to 50% of the building's maximum occupancy to attend services.

In Connecticut and Rhode Island, 25% of the building's occupancy can attend.

Here in Maine, leaders from different religions have the same feelings.

"The 50 cap has made it really impossible for them to have church," Caroll Conley from the Christian Civic League said.

The Mills administration releasing a statement to NEWS CENTER Maine regarding the number of people who can attend services: 

"Gatherings, especially those that involve sitting indoors for an extended period of time, remain of the highest concern for public health experts across the nation, and public health is this Administration’s highest priority. The Administration recognizes and respects the importance of faith in the lives of many Maine people, and throughout the pandemic we have sought to work collaboratively with religious institutions to ensure that Maine people are able to worship. While it is our understanding that the vast majority of Maine’s religious institutions are able to accommodate the 50 person limit, we have worked in good-faith with religious institutions to find creative solutions that allow people to gather in a manner that is safe (for example, by separating groups of 50 people of less by room, having multiple consecutive services, and continuing to use streaming of services)."

NEWS CENTER Maine reached out to other religious groups for comment but many declined to speak on the matter.

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