BY DAVID FISHER
WEAKLEY COUNTY (July 21) — Weakley County church leaders are adjusting the way they conduct services, in an effort to maintain safety during the COVID-19 outbreak, while meeting the spiritual needs of their congregations.
Regarding precautions being taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Dr. Don McCulley, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dresden, located at 490 Morrow St., said, “We have a professional sanitation crew that comes in and sprays the whole facility every Thursday.”
To avoid person-to-person contact, he said, “We’re not taking up collections. We have a box out in the foyer for people to drop in their offerings.
“We don’t shake hands or have fellowship time.
“We have hand sanitizer at different places in the church.”
However, he said, “People are not required to wear masks and we are not conducting temperature checks. If people are not feeling well, we encourage them not to come.
“We’re not roping off every other pew to enforce social distancing, but we are encouraging people to social distance. Some go out the side door after service to avoid the crowds.
“People are basically using common sense and policing themselves, and we trust them to do that,” Pastor McCulley, said. “They’re doing a pretty good job of it.”
Pastor McCulley states, when the COVID pandemic first hit the area in mid-March, church services were broadcast via Facebook Live for approximately six weeks, with no in-person services. Then, a couple of services were held outdoors in the parking lot. In-person services returned May 17, while simultaneously continuing to broadcast church services over the radio and internet.
“We’re holding an 11 a.m. worship service, a 6:00 Sunday evening service, and a 6:30 Wednesday night service. The only group that’s meeting right now is a youth group and they’re meeting in a big, open space, to maintain social distancing. Additionally, services are live on the radio at 95.1 FM every Sunday morning at 11 a.m.” He added First Baptist is also live-streaming Sunday morning and evening services on Facebook Live.
However, Pastor McCulley stated the nursery remains closed. There is no children’s church, Sunday School or choir.
He states some of the older people are still not attending in person. They let him know they’re listening on the radio or live-streaming.
Attendance at First Baptist is at approximately half capacity, he noted. “We usually have around 300 on Sunday morning, but now we’re running about 140-150. Our Sunday night crowds are around 40 people,” McCulley said.
When asked if COVID-19 has affected the amount of offerings received, Pastor McCulley said, “The church is within its budget. We haven’t had to cut any staff pay or positions. It’s been challenging, but our church people have been really good about giving and social distancing.”
Bro. Randy Potts, pastor of New Home Baptist Church, located at 8403 New Home Rd. outside of Martin, said, “We returned to in-person services on Sunday, June 7. We are only having an 11 a.m. worship service. We are fortunate, because we have a gymnasium and are meeting there, so our church family members can spread out and at least six-feet apart.”
Pastor Potts stated his church is not having Sunday evening worship services at this time.
He noted Wednesday night Bible story time, which is mainly for children, can be viewed on Facebook Live.
“We have been taking temperatures when people come in. If people feel like they need to wear a mask, they’re welcome to do that,” Pastor Potts said. They are also asked a few questions before they enter, such as, “Have you had a fever? Have you tested positive to COVID or been around anyone who has?”
“So far, we have not had any issues, and hopefully we will not have any,” Potts said.
“When we dismiss, we have tables set up in five rows, and we let the first row go out. Once they clear the door, the next row exits, and so on. And we encourage our people to go straight to their car and go home. However, for those who wish to hang around and fellowship, we ask them to stay six feet apart, in accordance with the social-distancing guidelines.”
Pastor Potts stated his church began holding church services via Facebook Live the third Sunday in March and continued to have online services for two-and-a-half months. During this time, there were no in-person services.
When asked, “How has the COVID-19 virus impacted the church’s financial wellbeing?” Pastor Potts replied, “We are probably not at 100 percent of the revenue we had budgeted, but we aren’t off by much. What has helped is our utility bills were down, due the fact we have not met on Sunday or Wednesday nights. Our revenues may be down, but our expenses are also.”
Pastor Potts said there are normally 70-80 people attending Sunday morning services, but the highest number in attendance since the church has reopened to in-person services is approximately 35-55.
“We have several older folks and we encourage them to use their own judgment whether or not to come in-person or view services on Facebook Live.
“Like everybody else, we’re just trying to get through this, and we will get through it,” Pastor Potts said.
“Jesus may come first, and if He does, that’s okay too. The Lord is still in control and He knows our needs. We just have to trust Him and keep working and keep serving,” Potts added.
BY DAVID FISHER