Standing in line at the ATM machine at Bank of America on the corner of Oak Road and Highway 78 in Snellville, one can hear the chimes playing hymns from the belfry of the United Methodist Church across the street. But
that’s as close as one can get to worshipping there until mid-July when the church reopens its sanctuary doors to the public.
Since COVID-19 19 hit, the church has been on lockdown and worshippers have resorted to on-line services on FacebookLive and Youtube every Sunday at 10:30am.
Dr. Jim Cantrell, the senior pastor at Snellville United Methodist Church, assembled a task force of 11 lay people from the church who have been tracking the virus and preparing for reopening the church. This task force consists of a lawyer, two nurses, someone with public health experience and four clergy members plus three others.
“Everyone has some type of expertise. Everyone has different backgrounds with different ways of thinking,” said Mary Neumann who is on the task force and has public health experience. She explained that the task force was divided into four groups and assigned four different functions of checking out worship issues, physical space, cleaning and sanitation and communication.
The church is undergoing three phases of response to the coronavirus. The first phase was shutting down the campus and going to on-line services and having Sunday school classes and Bible studies on zoom meetings. The second phase will begin this July with an in-person worship service with restrictions. And the third phase is when everything opens up, though no one has any idea when that will be.
July 19 is when the church will open its doors again. There will be one service at 10:30am to be held in the Christian Life Center.
“We think it’s time . . . we’ve done as much as we can. Of course, we need to take the necessary precautions,” said Randy Collins, a retired attorney who is also on the task force.
“The way we are going to be doing it is safe,” said Neumann.
There will be a brief questionnaire at the two church entrances for everyone who shows up. Their temperatures will be taken. Everyone must wear a mask and if they don’t have one, a mask will be provided. Family groups can sit together but must be six feet apart from everyone else. Lecterns will be more than 15 feet away from the front row. Ushers will escort the worshippers to their seats. There will be no offering taken but people can leave something in the baskets at the exits. The bathrooms will be monitored and only one person at a time can enter. There will be no hymnals, Bibles nor prayer cards in the pews so no one has to be concerned about touching anything. Also, no child care will be offered so children must sit with their parents during the service.
“We want to do everything we can to maintain safety. We understand that everyone doesn’t feel comfortable coming back and being a part of our worship. That’s ok – you can still tune in to our services on FacebookLive and Youtube,” said Cantrell.
“I think everyone is looking forward to seeing each other, especially ones who have been sheltering in place. Seeing everyone worship together is a progression toward normalcy,” said Neumann.
The task force is considering if a second wave of the virus breaks out, what would be the trigger point to go back to phase one. But that shouldn’t be a problem because, with the on-line service in place, everyone will just go back to that.
Cantrell received such favorable feedback from the church community, especially from the shut-ins (people who can’t get out of their houses), that he’s decided to continue the on-line services even after COVID.
“I’d love for the on-line services to be sustained after COVID. If you’re on vacation, people with surgeries, you can listen from everywhere. Now it’s a complete blessing to members and the community at large. People recovering from hip and knee surgery can connect. It’s the perfect way for people to still be a part of the church,” said Margie Tutton, office administrator for the church.