Churches cope with transitions

James King, Canvas Church missions director, sets up the table where he handed out masks and hand sanitizer Sunday, the church’s first service back since taking a break after Thanksgiving.

After shutting down earlier in the year due to COVID-19, some local churches have dealt with transitioning to fully virtual or outdoor services following a surge of cases.

When given the green light to open the doors again, most congregations adapted to a new world of smaller congregation sizes and livestreaming services for those watching at home. Leaders must now be ready to adapt at a moment’s notice to fully virtual services should coronavirus cases rise.

The first time Canvas Church in Lenoir City had to temporarily shut down after reopening in the spring was for three weeks in early fall, the Rev. Nick Rains, pastor, said.

Rains, along with several other church members, tested positive for COVID-19 at the beginning of October. The transition from in-person services to online was smooth, he said.

“We moved online for (three) weeks to give people the opportunity to do a full quarantine and put a buffer in there,” he said. “We moved to online, and, overall, the process was pretty smooth. It went well, and we actually came back a little smoother than I thought we would. Everything was great through November, and then we decided, just due to a couple positive cases, we didn’t want to recreate what happened in the beginning of October. We took one week off (after Thanksgiving) just to make sure we didn’t have any cases pop up.”

Rains credited church communication with playing a role in the easy transition. The church has an application for members to download on phones that informs about church events and other news.

The Rev. Dustin Cooper, pastor of the Christian Church of Loudon County, said communication was vital during a temporary transition from in-person to virtual services.

CCLC went on a three-week virtual break before returning Sunday. The first two weeks were due to a rise in COVID-19 cases. The third week fell on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, which allowed members to visit with family while giving time to show symptoms if exposed, Cooper said.

“I think part of the reason that it’s been smooth for us as a body, as a congregation, is because the leadership has made it a point to be open and communicative about where the disease was in the congregation, so they know whether or not they were in contact with it and how, across all the board, we should all be careful,” Cooper said. “Communication aids in that and that same kind of communication helps people to know that we’re taking a slight break, but with that slight break is the reminder that we will come back together as soon as possible.”

The Rev. Eddie Click, pastor of Highland Park Baptist Church in Lenoir City, said the church has been forced to transition to virtual services multiple times since reopening, but the experience has gone well.

“We’ve experienced it two or three times since March,” Click said. “In fact, we were supposed to have our hanging of the greens last Sunday, but we had several not really affiliated with the church, but people that had kind of come in contact with people with COVID, so we had to shut down (Nov. 29), and we won’t be open again until (Dec. 13).”

At Old Time Gospel Baptist Church, the response to COVID-19 varies between drive-in and online services, the Rev. Junior Ward, church pastor, said. If somebody has been exposed or tests positive, they call the church. Then there will be two weeks of services outside, drive-in style or livestreamed. After the two weeks, if there are no more cases, in-person services resume.

Ward said church members have been communicative about possible exposures.

“We’ve got some that’s not coming because of it, because they’re afraid of it, being exposed to it. It’s just an uphill battle,” he said. “We’re just trying to monitor everything and staying safe and trying to keep it safe with people getting it and stuff. … We’ve only been back in about two weeks now. We’ve had to shut down two or three times because somebody was exposed to it, so we’ll just shut down and have one service on Sunday around 3 o’clock outside.”