MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis churches are adjusting to a new norm: having service without members.
Churches are among those being told to cease operations by midnight or they’ll face fines. The directive was reiterated by the Shelby County Health Department Friday afternoon, who said some churches had still been meeting.
The Reverend Keith Norman of First Baptist Broad Church says he is urging his congregation to do as he is now doing at home: adjusting.
“We have challenged every member of our congregation to set side the bread that will be offered for Holy Communion. I have already set said mine for my family,” Norman said. “We are setting aside an unfermented grape juice for wine.”
But not all churches have answered the call to call off their regular church meetings.
“Our council chairman drove around Whitehaven last weekend, and other council members have also noticed that there were a number of people in church parking lots meeting last weekend,” said Dr. Jeff Warren, who is a member of Shelby County COVID-19 task force.
Warren is working with the Shelby County Health Department and urging all churches to limit all activities.
“Do not meet with more than 10 people. Meet with the fewest number of people possible,” Warren said. “Use a mask. I think the CDC is saying that is what you want to be doing now. And have your services on line.”
Warren says we have two weeks until the peak number of cases hits.
“We are not at 65% social isolation,” Warren said. “If we don’t get to that number we will have a huge surge in patients like you are seeing in New York.”
Larger churches that are already heeding the call are also reaching out to churches who aren’t, saying this is a critical time.
Many larger churches like First Baptist Church Broad are also reaching out to smaller churches that may not be tech savvy, offering to help them reach their congregations in a new way, and inviting them to take part in online services.
“The church can close. Where two or three are gathered together, that’s the most powerful witness,” Norman said. “We need to limit the number of people to less than 10 like the health department said. Only have the 10 there who are needed to broadcast your live stream and then come back with a more powerful witness.”