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‘Church is not the four walls’: Religious leaders adjust services due to COVID-19

Churches in Troup County are adjusting to the way they get their message out to their congregation.

Due to COVID-19, attending churches in person is frowned upon by public health officials and has been the cause of several coronavirus outbreaks throughout the United States.

However, April 5 through April 11 is Holy Week, and local churches are finding creative ways to make sure they reach their parishioners. 

Cade Farris, senior pastor at First Baptist Church on the Square in LaGrange, said he has been doing live streams of his sermons. He also plans on doing an online Good Friday evening service online. Additionally, he’s been recording an audio devotional each year, focusing on the last week in the life of Jesus on pushing it out on social media.

Easter Sunday service will also be available online.

“The only thing that we are able to do is just to make as many resources available as possible online,” Farris said.

He said the music for the services is recorded in advance, and he typically records the message a couple of days in advance for the Sunday service. Farris said the church has recorded its live services in the past and have later but them online, but nothing like what they are facing now.

He said it’s been a learning experience for many pastors at the church. The staff has engaged in software such as Final Cut Pro and iMovie for editing recorded materials. The church’s children’s minister is recording bedtime Bible stories for children each night on the church’s Facebook page. 

Dr. John Beyers, senior minister at First United Methodist Church of LaGrange, has continued to provide as many services as possible throughout the pandemic.

He said the church installed a highdefinition recording system in the church last year. Beyers said the church is providing full services, but with 10 people or less in the sanctuary.

Beyers said there’s no choir during these times, but there are solo instrumentalists.

“We never have more than 10 persons in the 650-seat sanctuary while we are offering those services,” he said.

First United Methodist Church of LaGrange plans to offer full services on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday at 6:30 p.m., and then again for the Easter Sunday resurrection celebration on Sunday morning.

Beyers said when the pandemic started to reach Troup County, the church was united in how it wanted to present itself to the public.

“We were very clear in deciding that we, in the midst of all of this uncertainty and chaos, we wanted to offer a calming, non-anxious presence,” he said. “And the way we felt we could offer a calming non-anxious presence was to present a full service, just like it was Sunday morning. So that for at least one day a week, people would feel like they were where they needed to be.”

Michael Jackson, pastor at Confidence Missionary Baptist Church, said they will host Easter Sunday services live on Facebook at 10:30 a.m.

Jackson said there was never any doubt to switch to online services once city leaders and the governor’s office started to enforce restrictions.

“I thought of the parishioners that are there at the church and their safety and our safety and my family’s safety first,” he said. “And so, I made a decision that it would be better to be safe than sorry.”

Even though Jackson won’t be leading a sermon Sunday morning in front of an audience inside the church, he said the message remains the same.

“No matter if you’re in the facility of the building or your home in the comfort of your living room, I believe that we are the church, and we represent the body,” Jackson said. “We represent Christ the way we live our lives day in and day out.”

W.T. Edmondson, senior pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in LaGrange, said he’s providing services on social media as well but also through the telephone. He said people can call in and hear the service or watch it on the church’s website or Facebook page.

“That’s what we’re going to continue to do because we want to keep everybody safe,” Edmondson said. “I’m not going to deviate from that until this stuff is over.”

He said the decision to switch to online services was easy due to Edmondson’s experience working as a nurse in a hospital for several years.

“I know exactly how easily diseases can spread,” Edmondson said.

He said his congregation does have an elderly population and some who have compromised immune systems due to cancer, diabetes and other illnesses.

“The church is not the four walls,” Edmondson said. “The church is with us. It starts within our hearts.”

He said the hardest thing to change up was offering communion on the first Sunday of the month.

“I just have to realize it’s not about the bread and the wine — it’s about the remembrance of why we’re doing it,” Edmondson said.

Adam Camp, pastor at Rosemont Baptist Church, has also transitioned to online services but has found a way to keep some of the traditions alive.

He said the church has purchased communion cups with bread and juice and has made them available to the congregation. Camp said church members can drive up, pick up the container, have it sanitized and still be able to participate in the church’s annual Lord’s Supper.

Camp said he’s encouraged about the future of the church, even during times of COVID-19.

“I feel like because of this time in history with churches doing so much online stuff, people have more of an opportunity to get interested,” he said. “It’s easier for them because you don’t have to get up, get dressed and drive into a church and walk into a building for the first time if you don’t know anybody or uncomfortable.”

Camp said it breaks down some of the barriers prospective members may have by allowing them to watch services online for a couple of weeks.

“As they get more comfortable and when all this passes, they may be more inclined to visit a church somewhere locally,” he said.