Faith groups face challenges in balancing reopening with safety

Updated: Aug. 19, 2020 at 7:06 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - As the pandemic continues closures of schools and community centers for large gatherings, some Charleston area churches face new hurtles in reopening safely.

Scott and Stephanie Jones co-lead New Day Community Church which originally met at the Summerville YMCA.

However, since the COVID-19 pandemic, the YMCA has closed the space to outside groups like the church for the foreseeable future Jones says.

“Immediately, we started livestreaming so that people could be a part of church at home,” Stephanie Jones said. “And then we transition to what we call a pop-up church model. So, we stream church but people gather in homes.”

But even small group gatherings presented a challenge, as 17 members tested positive for the Coronavirus earlier this summer.

“That was one of the points where we pulled way back and said, OK, let’s not have any in person meetings, go few weeks, quarantine the whole church. Luckily, beyond that initial bump it just kind of died out and didn’t spread any further,” Scott Jones said. “So, now we’re looking at let’s try again, let’s make another run for it.”

This time, the couple says they cautiously settled on outside services while trying to find enough space for a safe return while minimizing the risk of exposure.

“I think our goal with meeting outdoors is an on-ramp that most people can tolerate because you can actually get your own space,” Stephanie Jones said. “There’s a very natural tension between our expectation that God will protect us and that God wants us to gather to worship no matter what but on the other hand, we have to be mindful and exercise wisdom to keep people safe in times like this, and so we’ve had to navigate that tension, and I think we’ve landed on outdoors meetings sound great.”

Similar to the Joneses, pastor Kevin Bennett suddenly found himself with a congregation, but no building. Bennett's church, Crossroads Community Church was meeting in the cafeteria of James Island Charter High School.

"When the Coronavirus shut down public access to public buildings, we we're no longer able to go there," Bennett said.

Bennett says groups like his have had to get creative in meeting again, for him that means sharing space with Calvary Baptist Church that has their own building and more room for social distancing.

"For 12 weeks, at least 12 weeks we will give it a try to meet together and worship," Bennett said.

Despite meeting in person, Calvary Baptist pastor Charles Weeks said they will continue online streaming and have a backup plan in case of COVID-19 spread.

“If the cases went up, we would have to do it online again for a while,” Weeks said. “Then, first chance we could open the doors, we would definitely do that.”

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