LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) – Kentucky Baptist pastors from east to west have been trying to solve the coronavirus riddle.
It’s like being blindfolded and given a Rubik’s Cube.
“This is the hardest thing pastors have ever had to lead through,” said Andy McDonald, a regional consultant with the Kentucky Baptist Convention. “Nearly all of them I’ve talked to have said this has been the hardest season of ministry. I’m really proud of how they’ve handled it.”
Even as churches begin to reopen, they are faced with decisions they never had to consider previously.
Matt Shamblin, the pastor of Rose Hill Baptist Church in Ashland, said having the church service on the parking lot was never an option. Until now. Last week, on a sun-splashed Sunday morning, the church met together for the first time but not inside the church building. About 170 members gathered on the parking lot – some sitting in lawn chairs, some staying in cars and some bringing a blanket.
“It would never have occurred to me to do that,” Shamblin said.
These are the days of the coronavirus.
Ed Jent, the pastor of education at Eastwood in Bowling Green, went indoors for the first time last week. They do their due diligence in cleaning, including using a chemical spray on the cushioned pew seats. The chemical stays in the fabric for about a month, he said.
Like many churches who have chose to reopen the doors, they are having two services because of a limit of having only 33 percent of capacity. The government jumped that to 50 percent this week, giving a little more breathing room for larger churches to perhaps reopen.
Some have been restarted for three weeks, some one week and others are opening the doors for the first time this week.
Shamblin said Rose Hill will be outside again as he takes precautions to keep everyone safe.
“We try to make it as safe as we can so we can minister to people where they’re at,” he said. “There is so much conflicting information. We’ve decided to take it slow. We have no set dates on anything. We will assess from week to week.”
Rose Hill has opened the church for small groups and Sunday school groups that want to meet.
“Our plans are to have masks, no singing, temperature checks and a devoted service for seniors when we come back,” Shamblin said. “All of that is in place. Our building is sanitized and cleaned and that virus doesn’t live that long. The precaution we’re taking is being outself itself. We’re still asking folks to observe social distancing.”
He said they are doing online services for Wednesday and no services on Sunday night “trying to limit exposure.”
Shamblin was in no hurry to return to inside services after hearing low crowd numbers from other churches. “We had a great crowd and we’ll have a bigger crowd this week because of the safety issue with it,” he said.
Jent said the preparation has been ongoing at Eastwood. Last week, the deacons wiped down the area between services, and the senior adults enter through a separate entrance. Some people have stayed in the parking lot where the service is being transmitted over a radio signal.
“Everybody has been super cooperative,” he said. “Some people have stayed out because they didn’t want to wear a mask. That’s a personal choice.”
Jent said the biggest change is watching people walk into the building and go directly to where they are sitting instead of congregating or fellowshipping with friends.
“We haven’t really changed anything that’s different other than the door they come in,” Jent said. “The measures we have taken naturally impact everybody. I have heard comments that people miss their hugs, handshakes and close conversations, and I get it.”
Jent said they have leaned toward the more conservative side with masks, taking temperatures as people come in and supplying masks when necessary. He said three have had a temperature of more than 99.6 and had to go home.
“Our praise has far exceeded criticism,” Jent said. “Even the ones being more cautious (and not coming inside yet) have been very accepting.”
Eastwood has been able to accomplish it all without a full-time pastor. Brandon Porter, the communications director of the KBC, is the interim.
“We’ve had two interims and they’ve both been exceptional,” he said, mentioning KBC consultant Rick Howerton as the first one. “It’s been helpful for us to have Brandon in that role.”
Jent said Eastwood will come out better on the other end because of all that the church has been able to accomplish during the difficult virus days.
“All of our churches have worked really hard to try and comply based on their context,” McDonald said. “That means for some masks are required and for some they are strongly recommended. A lot of our pastors have surveyed their people and try to discern the information they’re getting and make a good decision.”
He said church leaders have stood behind pastors in leading out during the coronavirus season.
“By the grace of God they’ve gotten good advice and counsel from leaders in the church,” he said. “They’re not making these decisions alone. I’m really proud of them, and there are more tough decisions to make. God is gracious and He will provide.”