Churches Grapple With In-Person Service

Some churches are still weighing whether to open their doors for in-person worship. Others have already moved forward.

Video Transcript

AMBER STRONG: Things are busy at this food pantry outside Providence United Church of Christ in Virginia Beach. For a year now, the inside has been mostly quiet, as church leadership worked to adjust to the threat of COVID-19.

JEROME DANAGE SENIOR: Different air purifiers and cleaning machines to make sure that the sanctuary and the building gets fogged and cleaned both before and after services.

AMBER STRONG: Across the street at Bethany Baptist Church, Pastor H. Patrick Cason says he considered the risk to the predominantly black congregation and moved the services online indefinitely a year ago.

PATRICK CASON: I was like, let's follow the experts in this. And our parishioners adhered to that.

AMBER STRONG: Now, after years of being neighbors, the two pastors have crossed the street, connected, and figured out ways like this to work together to serve the community, despite limited activity inside of their church buildings.

This field is going to transform into an outdoor worship for the two churches. Like many churches, they've come up with creative ways to keep the worship services going during the pandemic.

They also implemented drive-through worship services, daily check-ins, and a social distance food bank. They say they have no choice. Because like many institutions, there's a battle between the risk of COVID-19 and the mental toll of separation.

JEROME DANAGE SENIOR: Many of our members lack touch in their personal lives. They may be widowers. Or they may be divorced. Or their children may have moved away. And so the church is their lifeblood.

PATRICK CASON: No, I have former addicts that need to be in the building. You know, I have people that are dealing with abusive marriages that need to be in the building.

AMBER STRONG: Across the country in Memphis, Tennessee, Bishop Vincent Matthews faced a similar dilemma.

VINCENT MATHEWS: Every third teenager that I talked to, either through my children or through the church, were having suicidal thoughts.

AMBER STRONG: The Church of God in Christ is one of the nation's largest predominantly black denominations. And despite early pandemic deaths of dozens of church leaders, Mathews says the group decided to restart in-person services in July of 2020.

VINCENT MATHEWS: We were social distanced. We were taking temperatures, and providing masks, and all the PPE's. And some people almost came in hazmat suits in our first Sunday. But the bottom line was, I'm actually around people.

AMBER STRONG: Josh Dickson with the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships tells Newsy he believes faith institutions are a key part of the COVID-19 fight, whether it be hosting vaccine clinics or following CDC guidance on safe gatherings.

JOSH DICKSON: We definitely understand the desire of folks to get together with their family members, with their communities in person as quickly as possible. And you know, that's why we're working so hard on this vaccination effort-- to ensure that that can happen as quickly as possible, but as safely as possible too.

AMBER STRONG: Now, the pastor here at Bethany Baptist tells me that he's hosted vaccination clinics here at the church and even gotten the vaccine himself. But when it comes to making the decision to open the doors to his 500 plus members for in-person worship, well, that's something that's going to take time. Amber Strong, Newsy.