Members Eager to Reunite After Stay-at-Home Orders
Story by V. Michelle Bernard
After nine weeks of in-person closure due to coronavirus shelter-in-place orders, Pennsylvania Conference’s Washington church has now been open for several weeks.
Following government regulations, members installed a plexiglass shield around the podium, secured masks for members who may need them, and, in between services, thoroughly clean/disinfect the church.
“Most of the members felt safe meeting again,” says Brandon Senior, who also pastors four other nearby churches. “There were/are some who are much more cautious and not quite ready to return yet, but the vast majority were ready to return. I was ready to return as well.”
Though the churches gathered through streamed services, a Ten Days of Prayer event and an evangelism series—all via Facebook—not being able to worship in person together was “painful for some folks who have not missed church in decades and are now all of the sudden (over the past three months) not able to worship in God's house. Offering the complete service online has offered hope and some semblance of normalcy for Sabbath worship,” adds Senior.
Columbia Union Executive Committee Members Urge Care and Compassion in Reopening Churches
Several hours away, members of the Williamsport (Pa.) district churches were also ready to gather in person. “Zoom and YouTube were invaluable to keep us operating and together, but the growing restlessness of separation was palpable before we reopened,” says Pastor Roy Weeden. Worship continued online, but “it’s the pre- and post-worship socializing that was more keenly felt as we reassembled a few weeks ago,” he adds.
Weeden says that members generally felt good about opening, but “there was an unspoken nervousness with opening too.” Most members have returned, but many of the senior members of the church are largely staying home, planning to trickle back in the coming weeks.
Many members, especially older ones, at Mountain View Conference’s Ripley and Spencer churches have also decided to continue worshipping at home for a while. The churches have been open for three weeks, following eight weeks of exclusively meeting via Facebook, YouTube and Zoom. Pastor Gustavo Parada says that Sabbath School leaders now arrive at 9:15 a.m. to help prepare for the 10 a.m. classes. At church, members keep their distance, forgoing hugs, kisses or contact, except elbow taps. If they find an attendee whom they think is sick, church leaders advise them to go home and “heal up” before returning.
In accordance to local government regulations, churches across the Columbia Union Conference are slowly starting to reopen, but only if proper safety measures are in place.
“We need to get back to seeing each other,” says Dave Weigley, Columbia Union president. “Some of us can get by with meeting online. … [But] God made us creatures that need fellowship. It is very good that we can come together as long as we can stay safe. That is priority number one.”
Churches in several conferences, including Mountain View, Pennsylvania, Chesapeake, Potomac, Ohio and New Jersey, have allowed local churches to have the option of meeting in person if the size of the church and local regulations allow. Others, like Allegheny East, are not planning to open any church buildings in the foreseeable future, noting safety as their highest priority.
In a video statement, Ohio Conference President Bob Cundiff told pastors to “use wisdom … you know your congregations … don’t feel rushed or pressured to reopen your church. Do so safely, when you are ready.” He encouraged pastors to use their best judgment: “We want you to have the most successful experience.”
Though reopened, many churches are continuing to host online service options to accommodate attendees who continue watching from home.
Out of Potomac Conference’s 146 churches, 10 churches have started meeting in person, and an additional 18 churches are planning to open in the next two to three weeks, says Rick Labate, associate for Pastoral Ministries at the Potomac Conference.
Larger churches across many conferences are likely to wait due to the difficulty in enforcing social distancing and providing a safe space for larger groups of people.
Most in-person camp meetings have been canceled (and instead are offering online options), with one exception: The Mountain View Conference will host a camp meeting/family camp event at the Valley Vista Adventist Center in Huttonsville, W.Va., July 5–11. This year, however, attendees must bring their own food to avoid surpassing limited capacity in the dining room.
See guidance from the conferences in the Columbia Union territory.
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