Churches in Kilgore are taking a variety of approaches to resuming in person services and coping with dangers of COVID-19, although many things they are doing in common.
Some local churches have already resumed in person services, while others are waiting weeks or even a month.
First Baptist Kilgore is having its last parking lot service tomorrow morning on Mother’s Day, returning to the building the following Sunday, May 17. First Presbyterian will also resume services May 17. Highland Park Baptist Church alongside Forest Home Baptist Church returned to the pews last Sunday. St. Luke’s United Methodist, on the other hand, will wait until June 7.
“The bishop of our Texas annual conference for the United Methodist Church has suggested June 7 for all United Methodist Churches in our conference,” said Jennifer Powell, communications director for St. Luke’s. “But also we have an older congregation, and we have a little less control in our sanctuary to be able to maneuver people to have enough social distance for everyone, so we decided that waiting a little while longer is probably in our best interest.”
When they do go back to in person services, St. Luke’s plans to start off doing them in the gym instead of the sanctuary because it gives them more space and control.
Something many churches have been doing or plan to do is seat people in every other pew to maintain social distancing.
“What we did is we sat in every other pew; we had them marked off sitting every other pew, and we spaced them six feet apart,” said Patrick Monk, minister of education at Forest Home Baptist. “Everybody sat six foot apart. Then we also had sanitizers at all the doors, and then we had ushers and all that were opening the doors for the people so they wouldn’t have to touch the doors and those kinds of things. As the people left at the end of service, what we did is we filed them out like a funeral home, just one pew at a time.”
Forest Home, of course, is also dealing with grief, the loss of longtime pastor Buddy Duggins. Duggins passed away in April, so church leaders have ploughed along through their grief – and coronavirus struggles – simultaneously.
Masks will also be a popular feature in resuming in person church services, with one church even providing some.
“We’re asking everybody to wear a mask,” said Kathy Waldrop, secretary at First Baptist. “We’re gonna try to have some masks available for those that want to wear one but may not have one.”
Some churches are changing up their service times. Will Wilson, pastor at First Presbyterian, said they usually have a 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. service, but for now they’re going to have one service and encourage those in the at-risk category to stay home. Powell with St. Luke’s United Methodist said they’re talking about moving services to different times because there’s no need for an hour gap between them since they aren’t currently doing Sunday School. At First Baptist, they will be dividing the services in terms of who is to come to which.
“Our senior citizens, 65 and older, or anyone with a compromised immune system will be in the morning service, the first service, and then the later service will be all the rest of the congregation,” Waldrop said.
Facebook Live and drive-in services have helped keep congregations worshiping together.
“For worship, we’re doing 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. drive in worship, and so we are encouraging our church members to park here in our parking lot, turn their radios to 94.7 and listen to our service as the pastor, and we do music from a stage out behind our gym,” Powell with St. Luke’s United Methodist said. “Those services are also live streamed to Facebook.”
While some churches plan to fade off Facebook Live services after things have gone back to normal, others are considering continuing them.
“We had talked about it before all the virus started,” said Dawnya Kimbrough, the secretary and pastor’s wife at Highland Park Baptist. “We had just not pushed forward with how to go about doing it and all the technology part. I do think that we will probably continue having it on Facebook Live when we are fully open.”
The video conferencing app Zoom has also been helpful for congregations to continue Sunday School and other meetings. Highland Park Baptist is doing Wednesday night Bible study through the application, and St. Luke’s United Methodist and Forest Home Baptist are using it for youth and children’s ministry alongside Sunday School classes.
“Our youth department is doing Zoom with all the youth, and then we have Sunday School classes that are doing Zoom right now with their classes,” Monk said, concerning Forest Home. “And then we have one class, our older group because they don’t go on the internet and that kind of stuff, they are doing drive up church.”
Churches are considering both physical and mental health in deciding when to open services back up.
“I think that people need that personal contact,” Waldrop said. “It’s nice to see somebody, and I just think that social distancing is very important, and I’m glad that we’re making arrangements to have that in place for sure. Our main focus as the church as a whole is to keep our congregation, our church family safe. Safe and healthy.”
“We’re going to try to strike a balance between being sensible but also giving the folks the opportunity to come back and worship God in a way that’s safe,” Wilson at First Presbyterian said. “I think we’re trying to strike a balance our responsibility to be the church of Jesus Christ, but not at the expense of our physical health.”