Churches Prepare to Open, Slow but Safe
By Dianne Anderson
People often want what they can’t have, or at least what they used to have, and many had come to expect on Sunday mornings the comforting kinship of the church.
It’s a hot commodity lately as more and more people try to Zoom in or facetime to achieve a higher connection than broadband offers.
Not long ago, Bishop Kenneth Wells said he was very surprised to learn people all over the nation are eager to get back to the altar.
“We were watching a secular survey on TV, and I was shocked. The survey said that one of the first places people would go is back to church when things got back to normal,” said Wells, pastor of the Spirit of Love Christian Church in San Bernardino.
If and when the time is right, many local churches, his included, expect to reopen in July or August.
But even though there is a need to get back to the old times, when the temple doors fly back open, only those that register in advance will be able to attend.
Over the months, there have been reported COVID-19 cases spreading among unprotected church members in other parts of the country.
There is concern that some in attendance haven’t been practicing physical distancing or quarantine. He intends to take time to get things back in gear. They are setting the structure in place.
“We are going in to bleach it down real good, spray it with Lysol before they come and after they leave. We’re even doing the six feet lines in entry,” he said.
Face masks will be mandatory. One of their board members also works as a supervisor for Riverside County, and she is keeping everyone apprised of the latest cases.
“She gets everything firsthand, the numbers every day and they’re not going down. Even though we’re trying to rush back to the norm, it’s just not there yet,” he said.
When his church opens, congregants will be ushered one by one to assigned seats, and physically distanced. Members will enter the front door, and exit the back door.
“We don’t want anyone passing each other. All your love, you’re going to have to do it from your seat,” he said.
With online offerings, he notices that community members reaching out more than usual. His services are held like a television show, and he sees a triple increase in views than their typical attendance. He makes it a point to personally reach out to participants who comment.
Bible studies and Sunday school are Zoomed. Church members access a Soul Saturday, and can call in and talk about the Bible, and just be encouraged and catch up as a community.
“We’re still family, we want to see how everybody is doing,” he said.
Pastor C. Anthony Green, pastor of Power House Church of God in Christ in Riverside, also plans to reopen slowly. His church, which started in 1955, has a couple of hundred members, largely older membership.
He said safety must be a priority.
Services are through Zoom, Facebook and Youtube, which is getting good use on technology. He is also putting together a registration program on their website for members to RSVP.
When the people return, he and the board have decided that masks and gloves are required. He said it’s important for the community to know that they can worship in a safe environment.
“We’ll have distance seating look more like around 35 people will be able to service if they register in advance. We’ll have a hands-free thermometer, and start training people in a couple of weeks,” he said.
The church will not be holding children’s ministry, but kids can access Bible study on Saturday via Zoom. Sunday school and small meetings will be Zoom or by conference calls. On-site attendance will be on Sundays at 11;00 a.m. for those that register.
Green said church participation online has also seen a big uptick.
People are viewing their messages, Bible study has increased, and they are calling him for prayer.
Often, he said pastors try to give people what they think they need.
“In a situation of crisis, they’re responding and telling you I need prayer. I need the Lord to encourage my heart. If we stay spiritual we can address those issues collectively as the body of Christ,” he said.
Pastor Paul Jones of Zion Elect New Generation Ministry is also holding off reopening until July or August, especially because they have many seniors.
“We go back to business as usual, and you can say we shouldn’t hug one another, but that’s not what we’re accustomed to. Church folks, African Americans, it took a toll on us when we couldn’t hug each other, and we couldn’t shake hands,” he said.
The community has been hit physically, spiritually and economically hard. His phone has been ringing off the hook.
But he believes people are turning more to the church lately because America needs consistency. They’ve been told again and again that it’s safe, even as COVID-19 numbers continue to climb.
“People need direction from someone, such as what the government is saying versus someone spiritual. Most people are looking for someone to lead them the right way versus lie to them,” he said.
When he opens, his vision for the church is that everything is sanitized with consistent cleaning and that everyone abides by the safety guidelines.
“And they’ll have to wear a mask. If they can’t say hallelujah through a mask, something is wrong,” he said.
For information on, Spirit of Love Christian Church, see https://www.facebook.com/spiritoflovechristianchurch/posts/
For information on Powerhouse Church, see https://www.powerhouseriverside.org/
For more information on Zion Elect New Generation Ministry, call (909) 296-1233