By Beth Lawrence
Whether they are hastening to have in person services this Sunday or waiting a while longer, local churches agree on taking protective measures.
Caleb Kelly, pastor of Tilley Creek Baptist Church, plans to hold services this Sunday.
The decision comes after a group of conservative Christian leaders challenged in court Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order limiting indoor church services to 10 people, and a federal court judge issued a temporary restraining order, making way for larger meetings.
But Pastor Kelly is not rushing to fill the pews.
“We are asking if you are feeling sick or unwell not to attend service,” Kelly said. “If you think you may have come in contact with somebody who has had COVID-19, we ask that you not come.”
The church plans to practice physical distancing measures. Families will be asked to sit together on one pew and not spread out. Every other pew will be left empty to create a buffer between people. The church will offer hand sanitizer and a limited number of masks.
A big part of church gatherings is greeting church family and newcomers with hugs and handshakes.
“We are asking that people don’t fellowship with one another right now, no neck hugging, nothing like that to do the best that we can do to keep from spreading anything,” Kelly said. Sunday school classes and nursery services are canceled for the foreseeable future.
Church will consist of a Sunday school lesson in the sanctuary and a worship service followed by dismissal.
The church hosted Facebook live streams of its services during quarantine, and will continue to offer them for members who cannot attend.
If a COVID-19 infection should occur after services are restored, Kelly is willing to temporarily halt in-person services.
“Our measure would be to make sure everybody in the church gets tested, and then of course everybody would quarantine for those 14 days until we could see if symptoms were shown,” he said.
Several local churches have decided to wait a few more weeks. One of those is Refuge Church.
“This is something we have been very adamant about watching and very adamant about where we’re going to stand with this,” Pastor Shane Roughton said. “I understand the court ruling. I get all that; it’s not constitutional to say that you can’t do this. But our stance is that until our government tells us that it’s safe to gather in groups of up to 50, we will not have indoor services.”
Roughton made his decision based on the biblical passage Romans 13:1 which reads, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.”
Most biblical scholars interpret the verse to mean that Christians should submit to the authority of government unless a mandate goes against Christian tenants.
Roughton believes that health and safety guidelines fall under that verse.
He calls the decision a common sense and scriptural approach.
“We want to do what’s best for our people, so we’re yielding to the government on this matter,” he said. “We’re going to respect the wishes of our government. We believe, and we have no reason to believe otherwise, that they have the health and safety and the well-being of our community and state at (heart).”
Roughton believes some Christians have protested stay-at-home orders based on the passage Hebrews 10:25 to “not forsake the assembling of ourselves together.” He contends that the difference between that scripture and the current situation is the verse refers to willingly not attending church during normal circumstances. The unusual conditions of a pandemic call for limiting services for the safety of congregants, Roughton said.
“I’ve really prayed on this,” he said. “I believe we have a calling to be responsible to God and responsible to our community and to do the right thing. The last thing we want is to put anyone in danger and to become a hotspot.
They’ve not asked us to compromise our moral beliefs in our worship. They’ve not told us we can’t read the Bible.”
When Refuge reopens safety measures will be observed.
There are normally two Sunday services hosting 200 parishioners. Going forward there will be four services with members attending in alphabetical order.
Chair spacing will meet physical distancing guidelines. Families may sit together.
Masks and hand sanitizer will be provided for those who do not have their own.
Physical greetings also have changed. Before stay-at-home orders were issued, Refuge changed its meet and greet style.
“We’ve changed that five minute period to what we call the wave and say hey,” Roughton said.
Nursery and children’s church have also been canceled.
The sanctuary will be sanitized between sessions.
“As a pastor and an extrovert I miss our people as much as anybody,” Roughton said. “I love that time we spend together when we sing and we fellowship and we get into God’s word. It’s vital. I also understand that there’s a time when we have to use some wisdom and exercise some patience.”