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Rock Falls church defies stay-at-home order, continues group services

ROCK FALLS – Many community members have issued complaints against the First Open Bible Church in Rock Falls after it continues to have services with its congregation members despite the governor's executive order.

Gatherings of 10 or more people are prohibited by Gov. J.B. Pritzker to curb the spread of coronavirus, and people were told to stay home until April 7, with the exception of essential needs or business activities.

People also are asked to exercise social distancing and keep 6 feet away from others.

The church's announcement that it would continue to hold in-person services sparked uproar on social media as well as calls to law enforcement.

The Rev. Les Funderberg of First Open Bible Church, 2105 E. Rock Falls Road, told congregation members during weekend services that he's doing what God told him to do and he puts trust in God over any man.

"The church is more essential than anything, than anything upon this earth," he said.

The church posts videos of its services and gatherings on its website, and in Sunday's video, at least 2 dozen people could be seen attending. They were told during the greeting portion that those uncomfortable with touching could just raise their hands, but most chose to greet one another with handshakes, hugs and kisses.

Funderberg, who could not be reached Monday for comment, said he knows there's a pandemic but that God will deal with it, and the world is being judged for abortions.

"There's a physical problem going on, but the real problem is in the spirit," he said.

On the video of the March 22 service, one unnamed congregant at the lectern and told those gathered that because Planned Parenthood was allowed to be open during shelter in place, so should they.

"If they think that the killing of the unborn – and that is what they do – is important enough to stay open during this virus when they’re telling all the rest of you to stay home, how much more important is it to be in the house of God."

Planned Parenthood provides medical services, and so is considered an essential service and allowed to remain open.

The Whiteside County Health Department reached out to churches about the executive order, and health Administrator Cheryl Lee said they have spoken about alternatives to physical gatherings, such as providing services online.

"It only takes one person for it to spread, and it can spread really quickly," Lee said. "Some might not know that they have it, and that's why we stress the need to stay home and isolate."

Whiteside County Sheriff John Booker wouldn't comment on specific action being taken with the church at this time, but said it's the No. 1 issue his department has received complaints about.

Non compliance with the executive order can result in criminal and civil sanctions, and law enforcement are more likely to intervene with: crowds of people gathering, especially if packed closely together or not social distancing; flagrant violation such as a bar or restaurant having a room full of customers eating in, or a movie theater continuing to operate; and employees being asked to report to work in-person where the business is not supposed to be open or appropriate social distancing precautions are not taking place.

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