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Local churches stay hopeful, adapt on Easter for COVID-19

By Carl Blankenship
carl.blankenship@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY – Churches have been adapting services to meet social distancing guidelines as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to shut down public life, and those changes spilled over to Easter weekend, too.

Local churches are live streaming from inside sanctuaries to try and get the Easter message to church members. And some churches have explored ways to hold services in person while maintaining the social distance recommended by the state.

Mt. Zion Baptist Church is a Salisbury institution that’s been here for more than 150 years, though it moved to its current location in 2004. On Sunday, the church was almost completely empty except for Rev. Nilous Avery and the technology team running the church’s livestream and audio equipment — a usual sight for Easter services. Avery delivered an impassioned sermon to the empty room.

Despite the changes, Avery said he is optimistic. He misses the energy people bring to the service and speaking to them in person, but the live streams are being watched by more people than the seating capacity in the sanctuary and he wants to continue the live streams after churches are able to return to normal services.

“It doesn’t feel normal because I’m used to the vibrancy that comes with being with people,” Avery said. “I miss being with them and being in contact. Usually after a service like this, I’m here another 35 or 45 minutes hugging, talking, sharing.”

Avery said he believes the pandemic will affect services in a positive way by encouraging more churches to live stream and creating enthusiasm among church members for the first service after it is safe to reopen the doors.

March 29 was Mt. Zion’s first day live streaming services. Avery said the March 22 service had limited people spaced out in the sanctuary. After that March 22 service, Avery said he felt it would be better for everyone to stay home.

Bible Missionary Baptist Church in Rockwell had a drive-in service in the field behind the church on Sunday. Cars lined up like they would for a drive-in movie. Except, this was an evening church service. Pastor Cody Zorn was on a stage with a sound system.

“You say, ‘Preacher, this is an odd time to celebrate the resurrection on Saturday; I’ve always celebrated on Sunday morning.’ Well, there’s rain coming in tomorrow and I wanted to make sure we all got an opportunity to be here together,” Zorn said at the opening of the drive-in service.

Zorn’s message culminated with the conviction that God has not forgotten anyone and “knows your name.”

The church also live streamed a Sunday service from inside the church the next morning.

Zorn said there have been tent meetings in the field before. Last week, the church held its first drive-in service. There is limited attendance at regular services, but Zorn said he wanted a way to bring the church back together in person.

“You can only do so much church on Facebook,” Zorn said.

Zorn asked attendees to stay with people they arrived with and not move between vehicles to adhere to social distancing guidelines. The field had rows of cars lined up.

Cornerstone Church, a non-denominational institution, has already been live streaming services long before the pandemic emerged. It has production at the back of the sanctuary and a live-streaming control room.

Now, the church has still stripped back what happens at its services. Under normal circumstances, there would be a full praise band playing on Sunday, but on Easter there was one musician present. Like Mt. Zion, the service was streaming-only for everyone but staff.

Cornerstone’s Bill Godair said the church has been holding the modified services for five weeks and the message is more timely because of the pandemic.

“I feel like I’m right on target this morning,” Godair said Sunday. “A lot of people talk about Friday and Sunday. Very few people talk about Saturday. This morning, I’ll be talking about Saturday, what happens between the death and the resurrection, and then we’ll tie it into our everyday life.”

Cornerstone also distributed $10,000 in Food Lion gift cards and held a drive-through communion on Friday.

Every Catholic church in the state is closed, according to the Charlotte Diocese. A private mass on Sunday was streamed on the Diocese’s YouTube Channel and Catholic churches across the state are “doing what they can to worship this holiday given the public health restrictions in place,” a news release said.

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