Several local church leaders remain wary of resuming in-person worship despite the state lifting restrictions on group gatherings, but at least two Decatur churches announced Friday they plan to hold in-person services as early as next Sunday.
Gov. Kay Ivey announced a revised state health order Friday that ends the prohibition on non-work gatherings of 10 or more people, allowing in-person worship services. The revised order, which takes effect Monday, still prohibits "gatherings of any size that cannot maintain a consistent 6-foot distance between persons from different households."
Daylan Woodall, pastor at First Missionary Baptist Church, said he does not feel comfortable resuming in-person worship despite the change in the state order.
“We will have conversations with our members that will allow us to move forward safely and securely,” he said. “We’re going to do what allows our members to be safe.”
Woodall said his approach to the situation remains unchanged even after the announcement Friday. His congregation includes several older members who could be considered higher-risk individuals. The change in state orders did not affect his feelings toward keeping church services remote for now.
“Our obligation is to preserve the health of our people,” Woodall said. “We can’t let our excitement and enthusiasm determine our decision making.”
Many churches statewide closed as early as mid-March and moved to remote forms of worship, including drive-in services, pre-recorded videos or livestreaming through social media.
Epic Church and South Decatur Church announced plans Friday on Facebook to reopen with social distancing measures. South Decatur Church plans to have two services with protective measures, including sanitizing the sanctuary between services, an advance sign-up for services and urging its members to not hug or shake hands with non-family worshippers. Epic Church said on Facebook it will send out its plans to its members after meeting Monday.
Chris Campbell, pastor of Southside Baptist, cautioned churches to not be “complacent” regarding the coronavirus.
“We will be slower and take a phased-in approach,” he said. “We are not going to jump right in.”
Richard Brooks of First Presbyterian said his church will meet this week to discuss how to move forward, but he does not anticipate having an in-person service next Sunday.
“We’re not going to take a risk until the medical people sign off on it,” Brooks said. “We just feel like there’s a political issue and a medical issue, and we’re choosing to be more in tune with the medical issue at the point.”
Campbell said his church continues to discuss what measures it will take when it does decide to reopen, but a date has not been determined.
“We want to limit how many people are in close proximity,” he said.
The bishop and cabinet of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church on Thursday requested that all churches in the conference suspend in-person worship until at least June 1.