As the coronavirus pandemic trudges on, Person County churches have changed their services to practice social distancing.
Allensville, Grace Cavel, Lea’s Chapel, Longhurst, Mt. Tirzah, New Brook, and Trinity United Methodist Churches have partnered to create weekly online video services.
Josh Tester, pastor at Mt. Tirzah, said the six pastors and a musician – a pastor’s husband – came together and called themselves the “perco collective.” Perco is short for Person County.
Tester said the six come together to put out a weekly video worship service which they film on Fridays.
“Actually Heather Locklear of Lea’s Chapel – it was her idea to bring us all together and it has been just an absolute blessing,” he said. “As a church where you’re a solo pastor and you have to do 52 weeks a year by yourself, having that six-person team has been a real awesome experience for me and for each of us. We’ve all really enjoyed that.”
Tester said the online service has allowed the group to serve their smaller congregations, most of which are made up of age groups that make up the population most vulnerable congregation. He said some members of the congregation wouldn’t be able to come to a drive-in service every week.
Dr. DuPre Sanders of Roxboro Baptist Church said the church’s services have also moved online.
“We have gone completely online except Easter Sunday when we did an early drive-in service at nine o’clock and then we had a 11 o’clock online service like we always do,” he said.
Sanders said Roxboro Baptist’s services were broadcast on the radio and through cable access even before the virus.
“We have no idea how many people listen by way of radio, but as far as YouTube that has been far more [than regular attendance],” he said. “We would normally have somewhere around 60 or 70 views and now its more like 300 to 400. We have 200 at worship normally that can’t come now, so I’d assume that’s a lot of that.”
Dr. David Chambers, senior pastor at Antioch Baptist Church, said the church also had a lot of technology in place before the virus set in.
“We already had cameras and a system in place, so that’s what we’ve been doing primarily because our congregation is rather large and we can’t even try the parking lot,” he said.
Those videos have made their way far and wide.
“We’ve averaged 1,600 people watching per week with this,” he said “So we’ve fared well and we’ve had people watching in other countries that maybe normally wouldn’t be.”
Chambers said he has had to change his regular schedule of hospital and nursing home visits.
“I am so grateful that we’ve got all this, but we’re a tight-knit family and we miss each other,” he said.
The financial implications
While the shutdown has affected some churches statewide, Sanders said Roxboro Baptist has not seen a big difference.
“Actually the church has done very well and people have been very generous,” he said. “We’re pretty much exactly where we were this time last year. People are contributing – some of them even more during this time. And of course there are some that have less income and can give less, but overall in regard to our budget, the giving is pretty close to what it was last year. So we’re very fortunate that that hasn’t been a problem for us.”
Roxboro Baptist is also maintaining its other financial obligations through this time.
“We are meeting all of our obligations that we have committed to and budgeted to as far as helping others, especially in regards to finances,” Sanders said.
He explained that some hands-on events have had to be altered like the church’s Feed the Hunger event to serve 25,000 meals.
“We’ve canceled that,” he said. “We’ve done that the last 10 years, but you’re side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder so that won’t work in the situation we’re in now.”
Tester said the North Carolina Conference of United Methodist Churches has set up an online giving page that has allowed congregations to continue giving without any fees.
“But we have people who would normally mail their checks in usually and so that hasn’t changed,” he said. “And we have some that just want to come to the sanctuary so they come and drop their offering in the offering plate there and that way they can come be in their space and we’ll come pick it up later. So for us, we haven’t taken a huge hit financially.”
Mt. Tirzah usually feeds meals at the Christian Help Center once per month which has had to stop, but Tester said the congregation is still continuing a food drive to donate food items.
Chambers said Antioch Baptist has provided some goodies to emergency workers and hospital employees and the church’s prayer shawl ministry has begun making cloth masks for nursing homes and hospitals.
Chambers said Antioch’s addition of an app and online presence for giving has allowed the church to continue giving through the pandemic.
With questions arising about whether churches are allowed to meet in person under Gov. Roy Cooper’s Executive Orders, Cooper asked churches in a Thursday press conference to consider if indoor services are what is right for their congregations as being seated in an indoor area greatly increases the risk of coronavirus transmission.
Tester said there’s no rush to get back to the sanctuary.
“We haven’t really thinking about coming back yet,” he said. “Whatever we come back to will probably be a hybrid service of some kind where we continue to do what we’re doing with the other churches. We’ll probably do some drive-in worship eventually – we’ve got plenty of parking room to do that here at Mt. Tirzah, but there’s a lot of technology needed to pull that off. I don’t really see us moving to inside worship for a while, but we’re doing OK. We’re not in a rush to do anything.”