Churches split on opening

The Rev. Benton Thompson stands outside Mount Zion M.B. Church in Ruth. Thompson said he plans to resume in-person services the first Sunday in June, but other churches are in no hurry to open their doors.

Pastor Gregory Partman of the Community of Believers Fellowship  has a good reason to keep the church doors closed to Sunday service — he’s been fighting COVID-19 since mid-March.

“I really believe that all of this opening up is premature because there are no signs of the virus letting up,” he said. “There’s no sign of it diminishing, the numbers aren’t decreasing, neither is the proverbial curve flattening.”

While some churches are resuming services as society reopens in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, others aren’t so sure it’s a good idea.

Partman said the church would continue to livestream its on Facebook and via phone calls. He also said the church plans to add live music to the streams to supplement the lack of fellowship.

“I think it is premature to put people in such a situation that don’t have to be done when online Facebook and over the telephone has been successful over the weeks,” he said. “We are online until we get to a place where it is really a good decision.”

Partman said he has been in and out of the hospital since March and was on a ventilator at one point of his fight against the virus, but he is on the road to recovery now.

“I’m still trying to recover, so I don’t want to put people's lives in jeopardy,” he said, referring to another in his list of reasons he does not feel safe opening his church back up. “We need to do the right thing for those that are around and those you are responsible for.”

Partman does not know where he caught the virus from, so he urges people to stay safe because people can have the virus and not know it.

“It should be somewhat concerning to everybody. People shouldn’t be as footloose as they have been,” he said. “I haven’t been able to see my family in 50 days without looking at them through a window or at a distance. People should be more cautious than they are if not for themselves but for others.”

Partman said for those interested in Community of Believers Fellowship’s services, they can watch them on Facebook on Sundays at 8:30 a.m. or Tuesdays at 7 p.m.

Other church leaders are ready for services to resume in sanctuaries instead of over Facebook.

Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church Pastor Benton Thompson said as long as everyone in his closely knit congregation is following the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control they should be fine.

“We don’t have a large congregation anyway, so with the normal parishioners there won’t be any problem distancing,” Thompson said.

Thompson said the CDC gave clear guidelines to open churches back up, so he plans to open the church on the first Sunday of June. The church will have markers every 6 feet indicating where people can sit. It plans to hold two services and clean between them. Only one member will be allowed to sing for the service. Masks and hand sanitizer will also be provided.

“Health and safety are very important. I want them to feel safe when they get there,” he said. “We are doing all we can to try to make it safe and what’s right.”

Thompson said services continue at there regular time Sundays at 9:15 a.m., and Bible study will be back in the first week of June as well at the church’s community center.

Episcopal Church of the Mediator/Redeemer Father Victor McInnis said he is waiting on more guidelines from the CDC and the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi.

“We are in no hurry because there are a lot of conditions that the Episcopal Diocese will require us to meet to reopen,” he said. “The CDC is going to put out something specifically about churches reopening, and I can tell you as the Episcopal Church in Mississippi will be following those guidelines.”

McInnis said the problem with opening up his church is that he will have trouble cleaning the sanctuary.

“The biggest problem is cleaning supplies. I don’t have them and can’t get them,” he said. “I’ve been trying for two months to get any kind of disinfectant.”

He said one of the rules in place is that he can’t do “communion under two kinds,” meaning he can give the flesh, but not the blood, which he says does not make sense theologically.

There is also the concern of the older parishioners of his church. McInnis said people over the age of 65 are in the high-risk category of this virus.

“The reality for us and most churches is that a lot of parishioners are of an age that this is a concern,” McInnis said, noting that many of his older members have pre-existing conditions; therefore, they are at a higher risk of death if they catch the virus.

Dispite his fears, McInnis said he believes the church should be open by July.

Rose Hill Free Will Baptist Church Pastor John Bates said his church will also open up on the first week of July, noting that need time to prepare their church to follow CDC guidelines

“We are not planning on opening up next week we are going to use the time of next month to prep the church for the guidelines,” He said. “We feel very comfortable opening back up in July.”

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