Note: The author of this article took great effort to reach as many local churches as time permitted to gather information about church happenings. Because of the nature of the ever-evolving effects of the coronavirus, to glean the most up-to-date information about a church mentioned below, or another in the area, access the church's website or call the church office.
Churches throughout Statesboro and Bulloch County made difficult choices recently, to continue services or discontinue services. All said that their decisions were made after much prayer, consultations with church leaders, governmental recommendations and other factors. Despite cancellations and changes, churches are finding unique ways to meet the needs of their congregations and the community at large in these uncharted waters.
First United Methodist Church
First United Methodist Church's events within the church building are suspended, but as Senior Pastor Jimmy Cason said, 'The building is closed, but church isn't canceled.' FUMC plans to livestream services online that can be accessed via their website or Facebook page, and they also have church members phoning some of their older members to check on needs. FUMC soup kitchen that takes place every Saturday morning and feeds approximately 300 in the area will continue, at least for now, but will be take-out only from the back door, from 12-1PM, and the church plans to add extra non-perishables secured from Second Harvest. 'We're thinking of those with limited resources,' said Cason. 'We're trying to be the church that reaches out, even though the building is closed.'
Pastor Cason offered words of hope and said, 'We're not giving in to fear.
We believe God will take care of us. But, he's also called us to be wise and discerning. We're being responsible. No matter what happens, no matter how bad it gets, God is going to take care of us.'
Pittman Park United Methodist Church
Pittman Park United Methodist Church also offers livestreaming services on Sundays, at 11AM, and those same services can be viewed any time afterwards online. PPUMC plans to use sites like Facebook, Youtube and Vimeo. The church also plans to upload podcasts on Mixlr, and small groups will meet using the Zoom platform. 'We're still meeting, but meeting digitally,' said Jay Williams, associate pastor/ contemporary pastor.
Williams said he has a favorite verse that he holds onto in times like these from John 16:33 that says, 'These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.'
'There's no way the Christian can lose in this thing. Either on this side of eternity or the other, God will redeem it,' Williams said. 'God promises he'll take care of us. That should relieve our fears so that we can take care of others. There's nothing like adversity to get rid of our differences. We all get down to one need and that is Jesus.'
Friendship Baptist Church
Some of the decisions made by churches stem from the size and demographics of the congregation. Friendship Baptist Church held services last Sunday for a crowd of less than 100, which was an original government recommendation, but communicated to their congregation to please stay home if they were highrisk.
Now, however, with new warnings from healthcare providers and government agencies, the church has canceled all in-person events and activities.
'This was such a hard decision to make,' said Pastor Tony Pagliarullo. 'We're working to still provide our members and regular attenders opportunities to engage and connect through worship.'
Pagliarullo said they plan to record worship services for the next two weeks, and longer if necessary, to upload to Youtube, Facebook and their website. For those members who do not actively take part in computer or social media platforms, deacons from the church will hand-deliver the DVD recordings.
Pagliarullo urged his congregation to reach out to others when possible, with phone calls, text messages and emails.
Connection Church plans to gather online only for the time being and plans to disseminate resources online for families to use at home. Brandon Williams, senior pastor of Connection Church, offered a message of hope on the church's website and encouraged people to use this time of social distancing to, first, stand on the promises of God.
'Don't let emotions and feelings determine your actions; stand on God's promises,' Williams said. 'Second, pray and worship God. Focus on God. And, last, stay in communication with other believers. Don't get isolated from other believers.' Williams said to do that via social media chat rooms and he strongly encouraged people to talk about positive things when meeting virtually, not just discuss the ramifications of the virus. 'Talk about the goodness of God and God's faithfulness to you.'
Word of God Fellowship Church
As of this writing, Word of God Fellowship Church, hasn't canceled the Sunday service, but has suspended other activities. The small congregation of 20 or 30 will adjust plans, if necessary.
Rev. Jean Owens, Co-Pastor of Word of God Fellowship Church with husband, Frankie L. Owens, Sr., said, 'I'm going to follow the experts, follow their guidelines. That doesn't mean I don't trust God. He gives me the intellect and ability to use discernment that he passes on to us.
Rev. Jean Owens said, 'I'm keeping my prayers up, my medication up, and being smart and not putting myself in a position to possibly infect somebody else. This is a surreal situation. But God is real.'
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Missionary
Elder Whittier, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Missionary, said services at the building are canceled and they are encouraging families, through email and social media, to worship together at home.
Statesboro First Baptist Church
Statesboro First Baptist Church plans to livestream on various media platforms for the next two weeks or beyond, and plans to give updates on their Facebook page and website. Mark Galo, Student Minister and Susan Allen, Minister to Children, are using online media to reach out to youth, children and parents with activities, Bible study and follow-up discussions.
Ricky Allen, Senior Associate Pastor, said a plan is enacted to reach out to those in nursing homes and seniors living alone with regular phone calls.
'We're encouraging people to use word-of-mouth, too, to let others know if they are in need of something, to call the church office and we'll get back in touch to help meet that need.'
Fletcher Memorial Baptist Church
Josiah McDaniel, administrative assistant at Fletcher Memorial Baptist Church, said that members of his congregation are already missing the gathering times, but he hopes to encourage them to meet in small video chat groups, in addition to viewing sermons via livestreaming media.
McDaniel encourages people to use this time of different schedules than normal to worship as a family at home, to spend time as husband and wife and spend time withchildren.'Reconnection,' said McDaniel. 'That may be one good thing to come out of this. It's forcing us to slow down.'
Agape Worship Center
Agape Worship Center will use Facebook live to broadcast Sunday services for members to view at home. Senior Pastor Donald Chavers said, 'But we're keeping the doors open. Church is a safe haven, a place of comfort.' Chavers said he is encouraging his congregation with 2 Timothy 1:7, 'For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self discipline.'
'That's offering comfort now. We need people sharing, showing empathy, standing up to be the leaders they are called to be, not shrinking in fear. We need people thinking solution-oriented, 'How can I help others?''
Eastern Heights Baptist Church
Eastern Heights Baptist Church, like others, plans to use online options to connect with their congregation, both on Sundays and Wednesday evenings.
CrossRoads Community Church
Pastor Janet Swanson, wife of Pastor Cary Swanson and Worship Pastor for CrossRoads Community Church, said CRCC plans to use livestream and social media for the next two weeks for sure and will reevaluate after that. Though the activities within the building have ceased for now, the soup kitchen that operates on Thursday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. will continue with to-go plates only.
'We know there are a lot of people who are out of work, out of money and resources,' said Swanson.
Swanson said she is trying to guard her own heart against fear, while also encouraging others 'not to operate out of fear, but faith.
'I don't want my heart to be troubled, instead, putting all my confidence in God, knowing that his word is true. What looks like a closed door to some people will be an opportunity to spread the good news of the gospel.'
Grace Community Church
Pastor Mike Holt, Grace Community Church, said he hopes to find a way to reach out to his congregation multiple times during the week.
'One of the biggest problems members will face is still feeling connected to their church,' Holt said. He said though they plan to use social media for services this week, they'll adjust each week as needed. He said he also encouraged his congregation to check on others, especially senior citizens.
Saint Mary's Missionary Baptist Church
Saint Mary's Missionary Baptist Church will use a YouTube channel for services, but, will also make adjustments week by week. Pastor Timotheus Mincey said he holds on to two verses, 2 Timothy 1:7 and Philippians 4:13, 'I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.'
Trinity Presbyterian Church
The leadership team at Trinity Presbyterian Church has decided to suspend public worship services and gatherings for the next March 22 and March 22 and then we will review the situation the following week, said Roland S. Barnes, senior pastor at Trinity Presbyterian.
"May the Lord our God guide us all as we seek to do what is best for our community and love our neighbors well," he said.
Trinity Episcopal Church
Interim Rector Father Charles Todd, Trinity Episcopal Church, said their church also will use social media platforms to reach their congregation and are sending out regular reminders that if they are in the vulnerable population and need assistance to contact the church office and people within the parish who are in the healthy population can run errands or assist.
Todd encourages parishioners with these words, 'One thing Jesus told us often is 'Be not afraid.' There's so much to be afraid of during this time, but God is big enough to get us through this.'
In times like this when everything seems unique, Todd said they did something different for their parish. 'We broadcast 2- minutes of silence for centering prayer and urged parishioners to deliberately place themselves in the presence of God and let go of the chaos. We need to step away from all that's stirring up our anxieties and be quiet, in the presence of God and trust that we will get through this.'
Springhill Missionary Baptist Church & New Hope Missionary Baptist Church
Springhill Missionary Baptist Church and New Hope Missionary Baptist Church Pastor Gregory Thomas said the church does not have the technology to use livestream media, but he and a mission team will make phone calls and visits to check on the mostly-older congregation.
Brooklet First Baptist Church
Pastor Bob Crosby, Brooklet First Baptist Church, hoped to continue services, as the church is smaller in numbers, but made the tough decision to cancel all in-person services until further notice and will livestream the Sunday 11a.m. service.
Statesboro Primitive Baptist Church
Statesboro Primitive Baptist Church plans to venture into the livestreaming platform, though it will be a first for the church, like many other churches in the community.
Brother Randy Waters, Pastor of SPBC, said, 'These times provide the perfect platform for revival. We become closer to the most important people in our lives, God and our families. The value of Jesus goes up when the stocks of the world go down.'
Brother Waters said a favorite scripture that comes to mind during this time is Chronicles 7:14, that says, 'If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.'
Bethel Missionary Baptist Church
Stewart Moody, Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, too, plans to use social media for Sunday messages and will post encouraging words throughout the week via those same platforms as mentioned by others. 'In uncertain and unsettling times, the church has been the one to hold out hope in Christ,' said Moody. 'God is not surprised by this. He's not wringing his hands. He's guiding us. He's present with us. Nothing can take that away.'
Moody quoted Ephesians 3:20-21 that says, 'Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever.'
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
Rev. Jane Page, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro, said services will be offered through Zoom and will be much the same as a Sunday service, but sermons will be slightly shorter to allow some time to connect after the service.
'We'll answer questions using the chat, and we'll still have our joys and concerns time. And, at the end of the service, we'll have a virtual coffee hour.' Page said they'll take a break for viewers to get a cup of coffee, and then spend time talking. 'We might can't be physically active, but we can be connected.'
Page said she is reaching out to members more often via phone during this time and encouraging others to make sure those on the margins are being cared for and needs are met.
First Presbyterian Church
Rev. Taylor Lewis Guthrie Hartman, First Presbyterian Church, said that though they are using livestream platforms for sermons and such, her priority is 'the least of these' in the community that may need help and resources. 'We have to value connection and care over content right now,' said Hartman.
Working closely with Rev Jonathan Smith, Wesley Foundation, and DeWayne Grice, Grice Connect, Hartman helped initiate a plan to pair volunteers with those in need in the community. Those who want to volunteer and those that know of community members in need can register at the Bulloch County VOAD website. 'We're focusing on the kingdom of heaven here on earth,' said Hartman. 'Connecting folks together and caring for our neighbors.'
Second Saint John Missionary Baptist Church
Pastor Craig Tremble, Second Saint John Missionary Baptist Church, said they'll use Facebook livestreaming and conference calls to connect.
'In times like these, we still gotta be hopeful and not fearful, not panic,' Tremble said. 'God is still in control. We need to be cautious and abide by the laws, faithful and not fearful.'
Churches in the community face unique challenges in unfamiliar territory. A common theme, however, is that of hope and help for others.