Although restrictions in Iowa have started to loosen, area churches are not hastening to welcome the masses back into their facilities. Instead, livestreaming is continuing and most churches are looking at a phased-planning process to bring members back.
“It’s definitely quieter and a little quicker because there’s no real level of interaction that happens for us on a Sunday morning, but it’s good because we know that people are gathered virtually and that’s what’s safe right now,” said Pastor Erin Kaye with the Washington United Presbyterian Church in Washington.
With the primary objective being to keep the congregation safe, all interactions have been limited, she said.
“We are worshipping virtually for Sunday worship and we have our office open on Monday mornings for about 3 hours,” she said.
All other interactions such as meetings, Bible study and Saturday Kitchen, a weekly community meal, have been put on hiatus until deemed safe for reopening. The church will remain virtual at least through the end of May, she said, with elders beginning to meet to discuss the plans for the next month.
“My sense is we will maybe start to do some limited stuff at some point in June,” she said.
Pastor Mark Brase at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Fairfield said his congregation has been meeting at 50 percent capacity since May 3. Church members are utilizing every other pew and have been averaging about 35 in attendance for the past two weeks. Before the shut downs, members were meeting in groups of less than 10.
“It’s different but the proclamation of Christ gets out so we can continue,” he said.
Brase said the church will follow the state guidelines before bringing in more members as they are cautious of keeping the numbers at or below 50 percent capacity. For now, those who wish to attend the service have to sign up before.
“I’m always looking at how to get more in but so far we haven’t reached the full capacity, so we are doing good,” he said.
Pastor Trey Hegar with First Presbyterian Church in Mt. Pleasant said his staff have been looking at a phased plan as well. The first step they are considering is a special service just for older members of the congregation, similar to what local grocery stores are doing.
That would more than likely create two services, he said. In addition, as the weather warms up “blanket worship” is beginning to be discussed.
Hegar said the service would be held outside and the blankets would act as the six-foot social distance minimum needed. Lawn chairs also will be permitted until it is deemed safe to worship together in an enclosed space.
“We’re concerned about a second wave and so we are going to keep using different metrics to see,” he said.
In Washington, the first step would be to gather in a reduced capacity, Kaye said, and limit singing to prevent the spread of germs. Because trained singers can project their voices 20-25 feet, it is not recommended.
Hegar said slowly introducing more people back into the church will be the plan for his congregation as well. Although they are able to worship together via multiple live platforms, they all miss the sense of community.
“For us the big thing is saying what is vital for our ministry that needs to happen that we can’t do right now and what are some alternate ways we can do that an be safe,” he said.
However, as concerns about the virus extend into summer, Kaye said it may be in the church’s favor to begin bringing in limited numbers of people as the congregation is generally smaller during this season. Until then, the church will continue its online live streams to continue to spread the gospel.
“Summer just tends to be a little slower for group gatherings, so I think that’s in our favor as we look at going back,” she said. “It’s definitely quieter and a little quicker because there’s no real level of interaction that happens for us on a Sunday morning, but it’s good because we know that people are gathered virtually and that’s what’s safe right now.”