LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) – Kentucky Baptist pastors are being creative, caring and cautious as they consider the best time to reopen the church to in-person services.
One pastor added one more word to the alliterated outline – common sense.
“It’s hard for me to tell people what to do,” said Chuck Price, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Louisa. “I believe it comes back to common sense. If you are nervous at all about coming back, you probably need to keep worshiping online.”
For two months, pastors have figured out ways to keep church members and communities engaged by doing online church through Facebook and YouTube. But just like their members, they are anxious to get back in the pulpit and look at something besides empty pews.
Even if every other pew is empty and taped off – due to proper social distancing – pastors and church members will be glad to see each other again.
“If people in Walmart and Lowe’s can stay six feet apart from each other I think we can too,” Price said.
The pastors understand it’s going to look different. Bibles and hymn books are being packed away and the sanctuaries will be wiped clean before and after services. Everyone is recommending masks, but not requiring them. They will be available for those who don’t have them in most churches.
Price said that FBC Louisa will be opening on May 20 to “slow ourselves back into it.”
A church survey indicated 75 percent of the members are comfortable about returning, 18 percent said they would stay home and watch online and the rest are undecided. The sanctuary holds 225 and the adjacent gym can hold up to 600, Price said.
He said they will have masks for those who don’t have them but “I’m not going to tackle anybody who is not wearing one.”
One member asked him about using a thermometer as people enter the church but Price doesn’t think it’s necessary. “I’ve been pastoring church for 20 years and I’ve never known anybody who would come to church with a fever. I’ve not had a problem of people coming to church when they’re sick. Common sense is what I think.”
‘Majority of folks coming back’
“We’re encouraging people to bring their own masks and we’ll have a limited number of masks available,” said Jeremy Couture, the senior pastor of Unity Baptist Church in Ashland. “We’ll mark off every other pew and have a one-way flow of traffic – in the front door and out the back door.”
Pastors are worried about the safety of their flock, but also understand the need for many of them to gather again.
“I’m hoping we will see the majority of our folks coming back,” Couture said. “I think the people who are cautious are going to be balanced by the people who are eager.”
He described Unity as a church with a “pretty balanced demographic” and that bodes well for attendance.
“We have families with young children and senior adults who are more cautious (about returning). At the same time, some of the first people coming back are our senior adults. They’re eager and they’re ready.”
Unity is reopening on May 24 with two services and is asking members to call and make a reservation to control the crowd and stay within the 33 percent standard the state government wants.
Dry Run considers outdoor service
Rob Ginter, the pastor of Dry Run Baptist Church in Georgetown, said they will reopen on May 20, the first Wednesday the state said churches could reopen. Of course, last week the federal courts have said churches are free to have in-person services immediately.
“Our Wednesday night crowd has stayed faithful to do online (services) during this whole thing,” he said. “We hoping to go there first (with in-person services). We won’t be breaking into the small groups, or singing, or having child care.”
Ginter said when the state government regulations first included no singing, it made him uneasy. “It’s like going to Walmart and asking why they only had one register.”
The government relaxed the singing restriction, saying congregants who sing must wear masks and stand more than eight feet away.
Ginter said he’s also considering an outdoor service where everyone is welcome to bring their own lawn chair. “That’s an idea we’ve been kicking around for one of the first Sunday services,” he said. “It would be May 24 at the earliest. I still think that even though they (the government) can’t tell us what to do, it’s wise to at least pay attention.”
Dry Run is a predominantly younger church, Ginter said, with the majority of the members in their 30s.
Ginter said if they do choose to have an indoor service and have pews roped off, it doesn’t want to tell those who came they can’t come in because they’re over capacity. “I really don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. “People could be very hungry for an in-person gathering. I think it will have a variety of effects.”
‘Flexibility with a smile’
Donovan Stewart, pastor of The Mission Church in Lexington, said they have consulted with a nurse among their members to help in preparation for reopening on May 24.
“There’s a mixture,” he said of people ready to return or being more cautious and staying home a whole longer. “Some may remain home for a little longer and we’re encouraging them to do that if that’s how they feel.”
He said they are putting social distancing policies in place and, if the weather is nice, will use some outside areas for overflow. “I’m looking forward to getting back but it’s going to be a gradual phase-in.”
The church already has two services and he said they may have to add a third to satisfy social distancing standards.
“One of our leadership maximums is flexibility a smile,” he said. “We need to be flexible and find that new normal and have a good attitude. We need to be different but flexible to what God has called us to do.”
Stewart said the church would be wiped clean but they are not requiring people to wear masks and “trust God with the outcome.”
He said the hospitality team will wear masks and there will be “thorough cleaning” between services.
‘Excited to be back’
Abram Crozier, the pastor of Trinity Southern Baptist Church in Falmouth, is also considering a May 24 opening with two services. He said they are asking members to register to stay within the proper social distancing standards.
“I think everyone has the right intention and everybody is trying their hardest to do this the correct way,” he said. “Not everyone wants to wear a mask and others have a different opinion. I see the arguments from both sides. It’s important for us not to be judgmental.
Crozier said, “everybody is real excited to get back.”
He is asking people to bring their own masks although the church did purchase some disposable ones. They will wipe down the church, have hand sanitizing stations available, and already put away the hymn books and Bibles from the pews.
“We have a lot of elderly people so we want to be as cautious as we can,” he said. “But I’m ready to be back and so are they. I think it will be a good day.”