HIGHLAND (CBSLA) — A room at Set Free Church in Highland was packed Thursday night as dozens of people stood side-by-side, only some with face coverings.

Pastor Jesse Ramirez was leading the prayer service, even though they’re still banned across the state because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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“This is like, the light in darkness,” he said.

Ramirez said that the church did close for the first few weeks of the statewide stay-at-home order, but opened back up to provide an essential service: handing out food to struggling families.

He said he is aware of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s belief that California may still be months away from officially allowing in-person religious services, but that he has to follow his faith.

“Well, the thing is, is that you gotta respect what he says because he’s in charge of what’s going on,” Ramirez said. “You wanna do what God says, you know.”

Pastor David Hernandez from Hope Dealer Ministries in Yucaipa came out to the service to support Ramirez.

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“I’m not saying to act foolishly,” he said. “To isolate ourselves and close ourselves in, I think we’re doing more damage than good.”

Hernandez is one of a growing number of faith leaders stepping forward to stake their claim as frontline workers and challenging the state, including a group of pastors who gathered earlier Thursday in Fontana.

“So, Governor Newsom, my prayer for you is that you hear us,” Matt Brown, Sandals Church pastor, said.

The pastors said they plan on reopening their doors by May 31 — with or without the governor’s approval.

“He didn’t ask us, he overstepped and he’s overreached,” Brown said. “And he needs to step back.”

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Earlier this week, Brown’s church released a detailed plan to reopen that includes safety protocols such as social distancing.