Some local churches are closing their doors after reopening just weeks earlier.
Central United Methodist Church in Lenoir City held its first in-person service in months on June 24. Church leadership agreed Thursday to close in-person worship for the remainder of July and evaluate then, the Rev. Scott Layer, pastor, said.
“No positives in the church,” Layer said in a text message. “Just precautionary because due to rising numbers in Knox County.”
As of Monday, the Tennessee Department of Health reported 1,717 “probable or confirmed” cases in neighboring Knox County, with 815 people recovered. There have been nine deaths.
Loudon County has 331 cases with 244 recovered. As of Monday, two county deaths were associated with COVID-19.
Highland Park Baptist Church shut down Thursday after reopening May 1, the Rev. Eddie Click, pastor, said.
“Well, there’s just so much of it in the churches now and seems to be more people getting,” Click said. “Just for the safety of our folks, really.”
He said there had been no confirmed cases in the congregation, but he wanted to be cautious and go back to livestreaming services.
Click said the death of the Rev. Ernie Varner, senior pastor at Sixth Avenue Church of God in Lenoir City, did play a role in keeping the church closed. Varner died Friday due to COVID-19.
“And I’ve heard of some other pastors that have gotten it, too,” Click said. “It’s gotten into some of our churches and it just concerned me for our people.”
He doesn’t know when the church will reopen.
“We’re just going to kind of wait until the count level drops,” he said. “Just kind of playing it by ear right now.”
Calvary Baptist Church in Lenoir City has also ceased all in-person activities until July 26. The church resumed in-person services May 17 and previously conducted drive-in services since the second week of April.
The Rev. Jody McGaha, pastor, said the decision was made because some church members had recent contact with a person who tested positive.
“None of our church members themselves have. They are awaiting results,” he said.
Prior to closure, McGaha said average Sunday attendance was about 75.
“It would be subject to change based on whether or not any of our church members who test positive for COVID-19,” he said. “... If we’re going to err, let us err on the side of caution.”
Sixth Avenue Church of God is closed until at least July 19. “For your safety, services have been canceled until 7/19,” according to the church sign.
A Sixth Avenue Church of God spokesperson could not be reached for comment by News-Herald presstime.
While Canvas Church in Lenoir City hasn’t closed its doors, the Rev. Nick Rains, pastor, said members are taking it week by week.
“We’re looking at things daily and making assessments each week,” Rains said. “... We’re assessing, one, kind of our local Lenoir City and Loudon County recommendations that we see come out from our mayors and things. Then kind of take into consideration from the reports we get from our local health department and the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) numbers. We’ve also done a couple surveys of our people and just kind of see where they’re at, see what our exposure levels are.
“Basically we’re just taking into consideration several different things on a weekly basis and if we see at some point the exposure get too high or have any cases within our church or things like that obviously we’ll move toward our plan B a lot quicker,” he added. “We’re just kind of taking it week by week and looking at all the information around us and making a decision.”