Churches in the Shoals, Decatur weigh options, pray as first Sunday under new pandemic order looms

Churches in the Shoals, Decatur weigh options, pray as first Sunday under new pandemic order looms
Linda Abbott cleans a lectern at the Westmeade Baptist Church on March 13th. Churches were forced to cancel in-person services one day later and are only now ready to resume (Source: Dan Busey - Decatur Daily)

DECATUR, Ala. (WAFF) - For the first time in more than a month, churches around Alabama will be free to open and welcome worshipers. But, whether or not those churches will actually open is entirely up to the men and women leading those flocks.

As WAFF 48′s Caroline Klapp has been reporting, several high profile churches in Madison County sent representatives to meet and discuss the issue. They originally decided to reopen at the end of May, and some are now considering pushing that back to early June.

The same debate is happening in the Shoals. Pastor Sunil Jessy of Hope Church in Muscle Shoals says it’s time to open the doors once again. He’s spoke with our news partners at the Times Daily and says he’s encouraging everyone to wear a mask, and stay away from one another unless they live together in the same home. There’ll also be extra cleaning and additional meetings to keep group numbers small. “We don’t want five or 10 guys coming in together,” he said.

Pastor Sunil Jessy spaces seats six feet apart at the Hope Church in Muscle Shoals
Pastor Sunil Jessy spaces seats six feet apart at the Hope Church in Muscle Shoals (Source: Matt McKean - Times Daily)

The First Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Rogersville will stay closed this week. Minister Pat Driskell says it’s not clear when they’ll get back to traditional services, and they may focus on outdoor services if the weather cooperates. Marty Abroms at Florence’s Temple B’nai Israel says indoor meetings at the temple are canceled through June and that online services have been very well received. “I’m proud to say we’ve had probably as many or more people tuning into our live online Rabbi Nancy Friday night services,” Abroms said.

The Colbert-Lauderdale Baptist Association says many of it’s members are keeping a “wait and see” attitude. They’re planning on having in-person services resume May 31st or June 27th. “Bigger churches are having multiple services with sanitation teams in place to clean after each service,” said the Association’s Director, Eddy Garner.

The Area Health Officer, Dr. Karen Landers, met with many pastors online last week, sharing recommendations on distancing and cleaning. Garner says he wants pastors to encourage elderly or health-compromised members to stay home for the foreseeable future.

One thing that may change is singing. Dr. Landers warned pastors that this is a potentially dangerous activity since vocal projections used to sing spread germs further than normal talking. There’s evidence that one infected singer in a Washington state church choir spread the virus to 53 out of 61 other choir members at one practice. At least two of them died.

Linda Abbott wipes down pews at the Westmeade Baptist Church in Decatur in preparation for the first services in 10 weeks
Linda Abbott wipes down pews at the Westmeade Baptist Church in Decatur in preparation for the first services in 10 weeks (Source: Dan Busey, Decatur Daily)

In Decatur, the story is the same. Justin McAlpin, the senior pastor at Westmeade Baptist, told our news partners at the Decatur Daily that they’re ready to open. “The desire to be together again to worship our Lord and savior is irreplaceable,” said McAlpin. “After praying about it and learning as much as we can about providing a safe environment, we decided that this Sunday is a great Sunday to gather again.” Westmeade will have three services Sunday instead of just one, so people can spread out.

Decatur Baptist Church and Epic Church, two of Decatur’s largest congregations, will reopen on Sunday with limitations. Epic limited the number of individuals in each service to 75 and Decatur Baptist encouraged members to exercise proper social distancing.

Copyright 2020 WAFF. All rights reserved.