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First Baptist Church Lead Pastor David Lambert baptizes a young church member in a deacon’s saltwater pool last Saturday. The precautionary measures were taken due to COVID-19.  Pictured with Lambert are graduating seniors from Briarwood Academy, India and Anna Matthews, and Youth and Family Pastor Ben Tarver.

As coronavirus pandemic restrictions ease across the state, local churches are taking careful steps to reopen to their members. Those who have begun to hold in-person worship services are implementing social distancing and other precautionary measures. Most are taking a hybrid approach by offering both in-person and online religious services and study. A few plan to reopen their doors later this summer.

“This hasn’t been an easy road for any of the pastors trying to figure out how we are going to open up,” said Pastor Scott Franklin with InMotion Church. “We really don’t know how long our senior adults as well as people with compromised health are going to be out and not be able to meet with us.”

Franklin said their church is reopening in phases. They will continue live streaming services and are developing a ministry team to focus on providing standardized online services, similar to an online college campus.

“We will have a minister to respond and a welcome team,” Franklin said.

InMotion is now hosting several small groups of 8-10 people to meet at the church, he said. These groups practice social distancing and have their own entry and exit points into and out of the building, Franklin said. The groups do not have contact with one another.

The pastor said InMotion church leaders continue to review these new measures to see how well they work. The goal is to reopen the church by month’s end should a phased reopening be successful.

 “We live in a time of uncertainty,” Franklin said. “Everything keeps changing. Even the information given to us.”

First Baptist Church Lead Pastor David Lambert said their in-person worship began May 31. Seventy-three members sat spaced out in the sanctuary with every other pew roped off. The church also had 800 Facebook views from members watching the abbreviated service online.

“We kept it right under an hour,” Lambert said. “Normally [Sunday worship] runs one hour and 15 minutes. It went very smoothly. The hardest thing was not hugging or shaking hands. We stood at a distance and waved.”

Livestreaming and radio broadcasts of Sunday morning worship will continue, Lambert said. Ushers wear masks and congregants are encouraged to wear masks, he continued. A collection plate is not passed around. Instead, boxes are placed at church exits for offerings, Lambert said. Church bulletins were pre-placed in pews for members, he added.

First Baptist Church also showed apparent creativity when baptizing 10 people last Saturday.

Lambert said each person who was baptized – two adults and the rest teens and children – was given the ritual at separate intervals during the course of the afternoon. A deacon offered his saltwater pool for the baptisms. Lambert wore a mask and the religious rite was videoed to be shown to family and church members later.

“It was a beautiful day,” Lambert said. The pastor said the baptisms were conducted outside in the sun and fresh air, per advice from health professionals.

He said the church baptismal pool will be used for two upcoming baptisms, and will be emptied and cleaned in between each ritual.

Pastor David Walker with Greater St. James AME Church in Thomson said in-person services have not yet begun. The church will continue to hold online services for now. Walker said church leaders would meet this week to discuss a possible reopening for in-person services in time for Father’s Day on June 21.

Associate Pastor Jim Martin with Fort Creek Baptist Church said in-person services in Dearing would begin this Sunday, June 7.

Martin explained Sunday morning worship would be divided into two services, one at 9 a.m. and one at 11 a.m. to accommodate smaller groups. Members will sit spaced out and will be escorted in and out of the sanctuary, he said. When they arrive at church, they will have their temperatures taken.

“We will have a sanitizing team [clean] in between services,” Martin said. He added Sunday School will not be held and some religious study will be offered online.

The associate pastor said members are advised to stay home if they don’t feel well, and if a member doesn’t yet feel comfortable attending in-person worship their choice is respected.

“We’ll see how June goes. If it works, we might move a little further,” Martin said. “On Sunday [last] I was preaching to cars.”

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