Praise the Lord!
Church officials have been given the green light to resume worship services as they see fit, according to guidance released Friday afternoon by Gov. Bill Lee.
“As we look to reopen our economy in a safe fashion, the decision on in-person gatherings will be up to each individual faith community,” said Gov. Lee. “We’re confident in their ability to determine the proper time and how to incorporate these guidelines to worship in a way that protects the health of their congregation.”
Church leaders contacted by the Standard on Friday said they didn’t have time to modify their plans for this weekend, but they will weigh their options moving forward.
“What I was hoping for was to be able to open back up for Mother’s Day and from what I understand from what the governor has released, there’s no reason we can’t do that,” said Eastside Baptist Church preacher Jim Hunt. “We’re a smaller church so it will be a little easier for us to spring back into action than some of these larger churches.”
Hunt said Eastside Baptist has a congregation between 40 and 50 on most Sundays. He’s been doing drive-in services from the back of a pickup the past three Sundays and says he plans to continue that this Sunday before reopening next weekend.
“I won’t be going around the room and shaking everyone’s hand, but we should be able to reopen,” said Hunt.
Westwood Church of Christ elder Byron Chambers said preacher Richard O’Connor will deliver his sermon via video on Sunday and there is a meeting of church officials this Tuesday to consider future actions.
“I think our entire congregation has missed the fellowship of meeting together,” said Chambers. “We’d love to start back as soon as possible, but there’s a lot to take into consideration. COVID-19 is still going and when you have a large number of people meeting together that’s something you have to take into consideration. This will be a hard decision to make because we want it to be safe for everyone.”
First Baptist Church will be looking for a slow phase in for regular church services.
“We’ve been told by some families they won’t come back immediately but will wait and see,” said First Baptist pastor Jeff Owens. “They don’t want to take an unnecessary risk and I completely understand and support that decision. We’re talking about phasing in just like the governor and president have advised. We’re going to start slowly. We’ll be advising our more vulnerable congregation members to stay at home and continue utilizing the digital webcasts for a while.”
The guidelines issued Friday from Gov. Bill Lee include:
• A phased approach to resuming in-person gatherings. Vulnerable populations (everyone 65 years and older, people with disabilities, people with serious respiratory or cardiovascular conditions, people who are immunocompromised, and others) and children’s activities/ nursery programs should not gather in person until a later time.
• Consider solutions to minimize close personal contact that may be part of your services, such as handshakes or sharing food and drink.
• As the phased approach begins, limit the size of attendance in your sanctuary and other confined spaces to create seating arrangements that provide at least 6-foot distancing between families. It is recommended not to exceed 50% of maximum capacity of the room and should enable full compliance with CDC recommendations for social distancing and hygiene.
• Wear face coverings.
• Encourage people to stay at home if they are symptomatic, have a fever, have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive, or have traveled internationally or to a domestic hot spot in the past two weeks.
• If a member of the congregation has tested positive for COVID-19, consult CDC guidelines and local health department recommendations to determine whether in-person gatherings should cease immediately, the building should close for additional cleaning, or other protocol changes are required.