TYLER, Texas (KETK) – Churches across the state have now been accustomed to a “new normal.” When the coronavirus pandemic continued to spread, effecting everyday life, church leaders were forced to find away to continue spreading their message, all while practicing social distancing.
It produced a trend of online worship services. Giving members a chance to hear and see familiar faces, all while in the comforts of their own home.
Now, those same leaders, are facing a new challenge. After Governor Abbott announced places or worship can re-open their doors, as part of one phase in getting the Texas economy back in action.
East Texas Pastors are now left with the decision of whether or not to let members back through the doors.
“We have a very high density of senior adults, and we’re very concerned about their safety,” said Senior Associate Pastor at Green Acres Baptist Church, Ken Warren.
Green Acres was one of the last few churches to keep their doors open to the public, while encouraging members to stay 6 feet apart from one another. Now, empty chairs line the inside of the building week after week.
“It’s just not feasible for a church our size to try to do that safely at this point,” explains Pastor Warren. For sanctuaries who decide to welcome members back, the Texas Attorney General’s Office has suggested rules be put in place. While the standards are not necessary, larger churches like Green Acres, are trying to find a way to keep members healthy is a realistic way.
Over at St. Louis Baptist Church in Tyler, leaders have a similar worry. Pastor Caraway hasn’t seen his members all under one rook in weeks.
“In a lot of ways it makes you feel lonely. It makes you realize how much your congregation means to you,” said Pastor Caraway.
Now, pictures have replaced the smiling faces that normally fill the sanctuary. Pastor Caraway says Governor Abbott’s announcement has made many to be tempted by the idea of returning to normal service on Sunday’s, but as safety continues to be the priority, now may not be the right time for his congregation.
“That internal self desire to want to open up because you miss your congregation, you want to make sure you do the right thing because its impacting so many people,” explained Pastor Caraway.
Designating an area for the “at risk” population, and keeping at least two empty seats between members, are just two safety precautions detailed in the Texas Attorney Generals suggestion for congregations.
“It’s up to us as an individual church to do what we feel is right, to do what we feel is the best interest and safety of our congregation,” said Pastor Gerry Giles, Associate Pastor with Marvin United Methodist Church in Tyler.
Pastor Giles, says the church is fortunate to have success online. As members continue to log in for service, Marvin United Methodist will continue in their methods, as they work to return back to normal in phases.
“We’re doing this because we don’t believe it’s safe,” said Pastor Giles.
Starting May 10 and May 17, Marvin United Methodist will be holding a drive-in service for members.