By Marlee Ginter

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – As COVID-19 cases continue to climb and regional stay-at-home orders go into effect, places of worship have been told they can no longer hold indoor services – but two Sacramento pastors said this is actually when churches are needed most.

They said church employees should be considered frontline workers and in a time of stress, like right now, the work they do is critical.

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Mike Flores takes pride in his church calling it an essential community service – considering it was once a church that he said changed his life.

“That was the first time that I ever had hope,” he said.

A Marine veteran, Flores said he returned from the Vietnam war with post-traumatic stress disorder, got involved with the Mexican Mafia and was even sent to prison – until church members were able to reach him and put him on a better path.

“Community is what has helped me,” Flores said. “And even during crisis in my life, it’s community that has helped me through.”

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Now he and his wife Gloria are pastors in Sacramento – on a mission to help people through the pandemic.

“We bring in people that are addicted to drugs. We help them. We nurture them. We make them productive back in the community, so churches are important that they need to stay open. Where are these people going to go?” Gloria Flores said.

Gloria and Mike both attend the International Christian Center in Elk Grove, but considering Sacramento County is in the purple tier – places of worship are no longer allowed to have in-person, indoor services.

The couple said churches are about more than Sunday services. They offer community outreach and mental health help that’s essential during the pandemic.

“We have a sense of hopelessness right now, but the community within the church is so vital right now that we can do it together,” Mike Flores said.

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Both pastors have been reaching out to other local churches – encouraging them to stay open as well.