Central UMC prayer space safe

Anne Yokum, receptionist at Central United Methodist Church in Lenoir City, sets up music for the new chapel.

In times of chaos and uncertainty, Central United Methodist Church in Lenoir City has figured out a way to offer a place for members to escape stress while staying as safe as possible from coronavirus.

The church opened a new chapel Monday that will be used as a prayer room. Those who feel uncomfortable in the sanctuary can visit the chapel 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Monday-Friday.

The Rev. Audrey Madigan, associate pastor, came up with idea while thinking of those who can’t attend church out of concern for their health.

“During this time, there’s so many people in our congregation who haven’t even been in the building in 10 months — some of our seniors or other people who have illnesses that compromise their health and don’t feel safe coming into the sanctuary,” Madigan said. “We wanted to get our people back into the building somehow, keep them connected. … We kept thinking, ‘How do we get these people back into their church building, their church home?’ And so we took a Sunday school room and reconfigured it into a chapel.”

The church previously had a similar chapel, but the room needed to be used for a Sunday school classroom, Madigan said.

The intimate chapel features an altar the church used when located at North B Street, a decorated cross, a kneeling rail and chairs. There is also an air filter, hand wipes and sanitizer throughout the room. On the windows, Madigan placed a film to mimic the look of stained glass. There’s also calm, meditative music playing the whole time the chapel is open.

The chapel is positioned as far away from the sanctuary as possible.

“We put it on the far side of the building, so it isn’t even anywhere near where people normally walk,” Madigan said. “… People can just sit and pray in their church home again. To come into the sanctuary, I mean it’s safe. We have all of our protocols in place there, but it’s so big, and it’s not nearly as intimate.

“It’s fairly small,” she added. “If people don’t feel comfortable just coming in and maybe encountering someone else in the room, they can call the church office and book a time to come. We’ll book that time just for them so they can come in and know that they aren’t going to encounter anyone else.”

Anne Yokum, church receptionist, said the chapel was a great idea to help members reconnect.

“Well me, personally, it’s because we can’t be in the church in a proper group setting anymore,” she said. “Even after COVID is over with, it’s just a beautiful place to come by yourself — peaceful, quiet — and meditate or whatever you want to do in here. I think it’s a wonderful idea.”

Yokum said she hopes the church “gets to keep” the chapel.

Planning for the space began about a month ago and was intended to launch during Advent, but the heating system went out, which caused a delay. Madigan decided instead to launch the chapel for the new year.

“We hope people will use it because I think it’s going to be a while yet before people feel all right about coming in,” she said.