Some local churches prepare to reopen, others remain cautious

Published 1:00 pm Tuesday, May 12, 2020

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Lincoln County churches are eager to welcome members back to in-person worship, and while some congregations are already able to accommodate state guidelines and move forward with re-opening, others are currently putting plans in place to do so at a later date.

Since March, houses of worship in the state of Kentucky have had to halt all in-person services as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. A federal judge ruled last week that churches around the commonwealth may hold in-person services despite the coronavirus pandemic.

The outbreak has forced religious leaders to get creative in the ways they offered worship such as hosting drive-in services where no one leaves their car and live-streaming on the internet for people to view while staying healthy at home.

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As the state moves forward and continues to meet specific benchmarks, churches, businesses and offices are slowly allowed to reopen, so long as they are able to meet the state’s guidelines.

Gov. Andy Beshear has announced that Phase 1 of reopening in Kentucky started Monday, May 11, beginning with manufacturing, construction and vehicle or vessel dealerships, horse racing venues and pet grooming and board businesses. Professional services may also resume at 50 percent capacity. Government agencies and offices will begin reopening May 18, and on May 20, retail businesses and houses of worship may reopen, along with funeral homes.

Calvary Hill Baptist Church Pastor Matt Wilson said his congregation is blessed to have large enough facilities to welcome back it’s church members while still providing the space needed for social distancing. Wilson said the COVID-19 epidemic basically sped up the church’s plans to expand worship into an adjoining fellowship hall.

“What this has all done for us is kind of fast track a lot of things we were going to do anyway,” he said. “Considering we had growing numbers before all of this happened, I had planned on overflow into our fellowship hall.”

Wilson said the church is moving ahead with those plans in order to adhere to social distancing guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.

“We’re very blessed with a facility large enough to where we can block off every other pew,” he said. “We most likely will also have two services.”

The church will offer two Sunday morning services, beginning May 24, for as long as needed, he said, and they will continue to broadcast services on their YouTube channel.

Wilson said he’s looking forward to opening the church doors on Sunday.

“It’s a lot harder to preach to an empty room,” he said. “The way we’re going to do things, there should be ample amount of space to accommodate whoever. We’re very blessed in that aspect.”

Like many churches across the state, New Salem Baptist Church has been holding drive-in worship services in the parking lot – something Pastor Greg Lockard says the church is going to continue to do as they spend the next few weeks preparing to meet the guidelines required to open the doors.

“We’ve been having parking lot services at 2 p.m. and it’s stay-in-your-car,” Lockard said. “They can sit in their cars and listen to the radio or they can roll their windows down because we have speakers.”

Lockard said the deacons of the church met this week to discuss reopening to in-person services.

“What we’re going to do – and I know the judge has ruled that we can have service and we’re dying to get back inside – but this outdoor parking lot service is actually really working, so we’re going to proceed with it until the end of this month and then reassess,” he said.

The next few weeks will allow the church to make preparations to meet the guidelines put in place by the state.

“When we go back into the church, there’s probably still going to be social-distancing, so we’re going to take the next three weeks and come up with a game plan and reassess things,” he said. “We’re eager to get back in there and everybody’s missing it, but in the same breath, we’re going to use common sense…”

Lockard said with the elderly population still vulnerable to the novel coronavirus, the church is being cautious.

“Hopefully by the first week of June we’ll get back into the church,” he said. “We’re going to try our best to set up the guidelines…we’ve got a lot of stuff that we’ve got to iron out, but like I said, the parking lot service has really been tremendous.”

Hustonville Baptist Church is taking a similar approach, according to Pastor Andrew McGinnis.

McGinnis said deacons of the church met this week and decided to continue streaming services online for the next few weeks and wait until June to reopen to in-person services.

“I’ve heard this from churches in other areas and even other states that about two-thirds of some congregations still kind of feel uneasy, and that’s what we found from asking our people. About one-third said ‘we’ll be there on the 24th if you all have service’ but about two-thirds were OK with us being more cautious,” McGinnis said.

The pastor said about one-third of the Hustonville Baptist Church congregation is over the age of 65, which is why the church wants to be cautious and make sure the recommended guidelines are in place before opening the doors.

“We’re going ahead to plan for June to follow all of the guidelines that are there for us,” he said. “Our building was built in 1882 so we already have some capacity issues. If we do the six-feet distancing, we will be about a 40-people capacity, and we were averaging about 90 people before we closed.”

For that reason, McGinnis said the church will likely offer two different services to split the crowd up and allow for the proper spacing. He said they will be encouraging members to wear face masks.

“Things are going good for us, the tithing still comes in good and we have a plan so that all of our members are being kept up with,” he said. “We can make it through this for however long we need to to keep everyone safe.”