Small churches in the area are facing financial struggles as COVID-19 continues to limit face-to-face interactions.
While online streaming options are available, services are limited for many congregations such as Riverview Baptist Church in Loudon.
The Rev. Gene Farmer, pastor, said the church is having Sunday morning services via YouTube, but Wednesday night and Sunday night services had to be canceled.
The church continues to support its food pantry to “reach any needs” in the congregation, Farmer said.
The Rev. Junior Ward, pastor of Old Time Gospel Baptist Church in Lenoir City, is getting creative. He plans to have a “parking lot service” where everyone stays inside their car.
Having a smaller congregation allows churches like Old Time Gospel to experiment with ways to hold services outside of online streaming platforms. Parking lot services would give the church a chance to collect offerings, something most small churches haven’t been able to do in weeks.
“Right now the initiative is to just, we’re allowing our folks to give as they feel led to in any way that they feel led,” Farmer said. “We are planning, if the Lord will allow it, if we’re able to bring everyone together on Easter to have maybe an outside, open service. … We would take an offering that way. … We’re not receiving funds now.
“Our congregation is basically — we’re just allowing them to bring their funds back to the church with say tithes whenever they feel led to do that and whenever we’re able to come back together,” he added. “Thankfully, the Lord has blessed us over the years, and we have some funds to work with right now, so that’s kind of the way we’re looking at it.”
Ward said if church members need anything or are in financial trouble, Old Time Gospel is willing to help where possible. He is optimistic that when the congregation is able to meet again the church will receive a “pretty good offering.”
“We have been able to take in some tithes, not as much as normal, naturally,” the Rev. Shane Maples, Friendship Baptist Church pastor, said. “This has affected us negatively in that light, but that’s not a primary concern of ours.”
In light of the pandemic, various events have been postponed.
“We had a community Easter drama scheduled for April 4 at our local municipal park,” Farmer said. “Six other of our sister churches were going to participate in it. … That’s a major event, as well as just the normal Easter egg children’s hunt, you know, those types of things that we had planned. Obviously, all of those have been postponed. We’re calling it postponed. We’re not canceling.”
For Maples, the hardest part of dealing with the pandemic is not the financial burden but the impact on the lives of the members of his congregation.
“Our people are a very tight, close-knit group of people,” Maples said. “We’re not able to be with each other in a time where people want to be with the people that they love. It’s difficult as a pastor to know that there are people in your church who are struggling and you can’t go and be with them right now.”