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Churches choose their own method of services during pandemic

By Shavonne Potts
shavonne.potts@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Local church leaders say they plan to continue to have services within limits that best suit their congregations.

Church services have morphed with the COVID-19 pandemic, with many churches moving to online streaming and some opting for outdoor worship services. Now, churches across Rowan County are holding services differently, with some welcoming their congregations back into their sanctuaries and others continuing only online.

In-person services

First Baptist Church of Salisbury loosened its gathering restrictions when the state moved into phase two and opened its doors for the first time at the end of May.

Minister of Education Rod Kerr said the church has adhered to “the W’s” — wearing a mask, washing or sanitizing hands and waiting six feet apart from the other parishioners. He said those who enter the church without a mask can also be given one. Each person who attends makes a first stop at a wellness station to have their temperature checked. Members of the church who are doctors, nurses, medics or who have other expertise conduct checks on the people before they enter the building.

“Our medical personnel, our doctors, nurses and some of the EMTs all helped us work out some medical safety issues,” Kerr said.

The sanctuary is also roped off so that families, couples or singles can sit within a safe distance from the next family unit, couples or single person.

Between the two Sunday morning services, which are 8 a.m. and 11 a.m., church custodians thoroughly clean the church. All furniture is wiped down, bathrooms cleaned and the sanctuary is disinfected using a fogging method. Additionally, the pastor is positioned behind plexiglass to shield him from the congregation since he cannot wear a mask and deliver the sermon.

“We do that for safety reasons so they can see his face and expressions but also so he can be safe,” Kerr said.

He said they currently don’t meet in-person for Sunday school classes. All of the classes are held via the video conferencing platform Zoom. The church also broadcasts services via Facebook live or at a time that is convenient for them.

Before the pandemic, the church broadcasted its services on the radio and began to stream services online. Now, Kerr estimates, there are about 200 people that attend the Sunday morning services. But, he estimates, there are many more people throughout the state who watch the services via Facebook or Youtube.

“It’s something that really we didn’t anticipate but a lot of people pick up our services and then they go to their own home church services. I think the churches that do live streaming have picked up a few more people,” Kerr said, adding that he watches some other church services online, too.

Kerr said he doesn’t think churches will ever be able to go back to the way they used to for gathering, “because the world is not like it used to be. We know a pandemic like this can change everything for us at any time.”

“We’ve been humbled as a church and as individuals,” he said.

He foresees Zoom meetings becoming a vital instrument and continuing to be part of their church culture.

Drive-in service

Transformation Church, on Old Stone House Road in Salisbury, hasn’t yet moved indoors. Although churches are allowed to gather indoors, Pastor Jody Almond said services are still held outside. The church has hosted services in the form of a drive-in, where some members enjoy the service from inside their vehicles and others sit in lawn chairs. And to make drive-in services work, the church has rented outdoor sinks and Port-a-Johns. The company that provides them returns each week to clean and replenish the supplies.

Almond said he and the church are just trying to follow health guidelines as closely as possible.

“I know that they’ve allowed churches to go back inside, but they’re not really comfortable with it, neither are we because the numbers aren’t declining, they’re increasing,” he said.

Even before the pandemic, the church was live-streaming its services. But during phase one, months ago now, the church met virtually only. It continues to do small groups via video. The children’s ministry meets each Wednesday online.

Once they feel comfortable moving back indoors for worship, Almond said Transformation Church will enforce social distancing and most likely require masks during the few meetings. If someone has health issues, Almond says the church will ask the person to watch virtually until the church can avoid wearing masks at all.

“We’ve tried to take every precaution and ensure our people are No. 1 safe. That’s the No. 1 priority — to keep them safe and also to allow them to worship,” Almond said.

Almond said he’s also been able to assist other ministers who were not previously broadcasting their services live and coach them on the types of engagement they could generate via online services.

“I’ve just been, to kind of guide them, and walk them through some of that process; to get them comfortable with it so that they can do just your basic, nice livestream, if they want to,” he said. “It’s about the kingdom of God.”

If everyone is being honest, Almond said, there is no standard to gauge the status of the pandemic and there’s no way to know how the next few months will look.

“I believe the church is on a new normal. I believe the idea of shaking hands and hugging necks … that’s a foregone conclusion at this point that we probably won’t be doing that through this year,” he said.

During the pandemic, Almond said, a team of leaders regularly checks on members to make sure they’re OK.

“It’s really a testing season, I believe,” Almond said.

Virtual only

New Zion Missionary Baptist Church, on Dunn’s Mountain Road, had already been broadcasting Sunday services and Wednesday Bible study online. Once the pandemic hit, though, Pastor Patrick Jones began hosting virtual services.

Jones said the church has decided to continue only allowing key people inside to help with broadcasting their services, which includes a praise team, media team and a different minister who each week will pray during the service.

“We’re watching the numbers and following the CDC guidelines as well as the governor,” Jones said. “But primarily we’re preparing in-house worship by placing sanitizing stations throughout the church — both wall mounts and stationery sanitizing. We will also have signage pointing to the sanitizing. We’ll also be social distancing through our seating.”

Seating will be marked as members come into the church. And while the church already has an online platform for donations, there will be envelopes at a specified place for when services return.

Jones said the church has held virtual programs for young children teens and seniors called Kid Rocks, Young Rocks, Teen Rocks and Senior Rocks, which is shown online only. As a way to stay engaged and connected to members, Jones said he started Talk Thursday — where members can see one another via video conferencing. And he has brought back his Motivational Monday videos that he created before the pandemic. Those videos are shown on the church Facebook page. Jones implemented a Wednesday scripture lesson for senior church members that helps those who may not be social media savvy.

The church leadership team that includes deacons have a certain number of members who they check on via a phone call.

“It’s really hard for a single person to call 150 people. Our members understand that. I think they are comfortable with the fact that our leaders are calling them. It lets them know I’m engaging through our leaders,” Jones said. “All pastors are pretty much ministering through a camera lens and not really having the audience of your people there to help witness to the word. You’re ministering the word, pretty much through a camera lens.”

Jones said he would love to return to a full in-house service with all of his members in September, but if COVID-19 numbers dictate something different he will postpone meeting in the church.

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