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Virus prompts non-traditional church services
Most plan online Easter celebrations

The state-ordered shelter-in-place mandate may hamper traditional Easter celebrations, but several local churches have turned to alternate methods of group worship.

Embracing technology, many churches have begun offering livestreamed services. Some have been doing this for a while, but the COVID-19 social distancing has swayed more churches toward technology as a way of reaching congregations.

Gov. Brian Kemp’s order prohibits gatherings of more than 10 people. It also dictates that at all times, except for families and those who cohabit, people must remain six feet apart. Holding traditional church services won’t accommodate that in most cases.

But Easter Sunday “is the most holy of Sundays,” said Oak Grove Baptist Church Pastor Thomas Hendrix. Albeit small, his congregation gathering would still violate the governor’s order. Until recently, they continued to hold traditional services with people spaced apart, but after consulting with Bulloch County Sheriff Noel Brown, the church leaders are reviewing other options, he said.

Even sunrise services held outdoors can pose problems with spacing, especially when congregations are large. But as more people get used to attending “church” in the comforts of their own homes, it seems the online services are catching on, said United Methodist Church administrative assistant Robin Kersey.

“We have our services online at 11 a.m. every Sunday on our website,” she said, adding that virtual attendance has increased over the past few weeks.

Friendship Baptist Church Pastor Tony Pagliarullo said online services have been very well received.  

“We stream on Facebook, YouTube, and our website and we (will have) a Good Friday service with links to downloads, songs and prayers,” he said.

Other churches, including Statesboro First Baptist Church and Believers Church, invite callers via voicemail message to attend livestreamed services on their websites. June Hackle, office administrator for First Presbyterian Church in Statesboro, said special Maundy Thursday and Easter Sunday services are planned. She said reception to the church’s online services has been “pretty good.”

One local church is even planning a “drive-in” Easter service.

“We will stay in our cars, spaced apart,” said Cornerstone Church Pastor Ed Neubert. “We have a large porch (to serve as a pulpit) and a big speaker system. When we say ‘amen’ we will honk our horns, and when we have ‘meet and greet’ we will wave from the car windows.”

On Sunday, there will be a large banner that says “He is risen,” and church members can come once at a time to pick up a light breakfast, he said.

United Pentecostal Church also plans a drive-in service “as long as everyone stays in their cars and parks 6 feet apart,” said Pastor Randy Watts. “No hugging or shaking hands.”

The church held a drive-in service a few weeks ago and it went well, he said.

“You could feel the excitement in the air” as members honked their horns during that service, too.

With services streamed online, Zoom online video conferencing used for prayer meetings and Instagram for youth services, New Covenant Church members are keeping the worship flowing, said Pastor David McLendon. 

“People miss coming to ‘real church,’ but we have picked up five or six families from other towns,” he said, adding that the quarantine gave “a needed push” toward adopting some modern technology.

Connection Church administrative assistant Sydney Chapman said the response to online services has been increasing. The church offers livestreaming on its social media pages and website.

Many churches are likely still deciding on ways to maintain worship in a safe and legal manner, but others feel traditional church gatherings are their right.

Redeeming Love Church of God The Bibleway in Statesboro has stood steadfast in its decision to continue services. Pastor Eli Porter told the Statesboro Herald Wednesday that his church planned to hold a prayer meeting that night with about “50 to 60 people,” his normal congregation.

On Sunday, April 5, he and four other church leaders were cited after law enforcement warnings against gathering went unheeded. The second time Georgia state troopers visited the church after a complaint, the five were charged with reckless conduct, a misdemeanor that can result in a fine of $1,000, 90 days in jail or both.

Video on the church’s Facebook page shows a small building with about 30 people standing close together during the April 5 worship. Porter said he plans to continue regular services “with chairs spaced apart.”


Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.

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