Mid-South churches grapple with question of hosting church services during coronavirus

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The coronavirus has many churches making a tough call, whether to cancel worship services and events in order to keep their members and the public safe.

Many religious leaders say with this coronavirus, it’s really about more than faith versus fear.

Normally, people would pack at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church at noon Wednesday for a message and a quick meal, but in the height of the coronavirus, their message is coming now through Facebook.

“I want to welcome everyone to the streaming via the Boulevard website or Facebook to message in the middle,” Pastor J. Lawrence Turner said.

The Wednesday noon service moved to the social media platform to keep people safe.

“I knew the church would really have to consider what it would do,” Turner said.

Pastor Turner said all Sunday services are also now only available through streaming with no in-person church services, though initially he considered it.

“Friday night, I went to bed thinking, ‘OK, Sunday, we’re gonna gather for worship,'” Turner said. “But then I was made aware of the how the virus was transmitting itself, knowing how deadly it was. That this is not the flu. That this is twice as contagious as the flu. Knowing these things helped to inform my decision, and then talking to some people on the front lines.”

It’s a decision that many churches are grappling with. Some decided to go ahead and hold regular service in the sanctuary.

Eastside Community Church was one of those. Pastor Josiah Lawrence said they also streamed their service.

“Last Sunday, we were back-and-forth as we spoke with many different health professionals asking their advice and wisdom,” Lawrence said. “As we saw through, we took as many precautions: moved chairs six feet away from each other and did not do child care. With the advice that we had been given at the time, they were saying it was still safe if you had those other precautions to meet.”

But the church has since decided to put those regular sanctuary services on hold.

What about the question of faith and if calling off service is a conviction of your faith in God to protect you from everything including coronavirus?

“It seems it would be far less loving to risk exposure and continue to meet, which is the opposite of what the church is known to do,” Lawrence said. “It normally is a place people come together. In this moment, we want to be a place instead to come and serve people where they are instead of being a place that could eventually lead to people being more sick if we continued to meet.

“As Paul wrote in the letter to Timothy, God has not given u a spirit of fear, but of power, love and of sound mind. The sound mind God gave me helped me understand as I am aware of the fact. As the servant and leader of this congregation, I am to care for its well-being. I can’t with a sound mind place people’s lives and health in jeopardy.”

Church leaders from across the city recently met to talk about this coronavirus.

One thing they said came out of that is looking at a new way to help one another reach people.

Larger churches are helping people learn about technology and are finding ways to be of service to groups like seniors, offering to pick up medicine and shop for them.

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