As Alex Kato and his family prepared a cross-country move for him to step in as new pastor at Trinity Baptist Church in Renton, WA, life was upended even more with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic hitting the greater Puget Sound area with the first recognized cases in the United States.
“One challenging factor for us is that I just started as pastor in March, and until the last week of March, we were still living in New Jersey,” Kato said. “So we met for worship online only, uploading services stitched together by our tech team, with prayers and music from various homes in Washington and sermons from New Jersey.”
The church targeted May 31 as their first opportunity to stream services from the TBC sanctuary after the Katos arrived at their new home. New state guidelines received just prior to that date were rolled out to allow outdoor services for up to 100 people, which required church leadership to remain nimble in their approach. A tent-raising on the back lawn offered opportunities to gather in person with adequate space to remain in compliance with the public health protocols.
“We are grateful to have the ideal people and resources to make this outdoor worship service happen,” Kato stated. “Each summer we put on a Vacation Bible Adventure for over 30 kids and were sad to cancel that this summer, but now we had the tents and volunteers who knew how to put them together. Our congregation’s unique resources to offer a time of worship in Phase 1 has felt like a great gift, a chance to engage some of those ministry opportunities.”
As Trinity Baptist experienced, pulling together the COVID-19 Comprehensive Plan required by the state was an exhausting process. The church has the capability for attendees to bring lawn chairs or tune to an FM transmitter in their cars. They have suspended congregational singing for the time being, but instead incorporate instrumental or small ensemble songs in each service.
“Our tech volunteers have gone above and beyond to figure each new challenge out and we are excited to take a break from reinventing the wheel each week,” Kato said. “Overall being back together, distanced and masked as we may be has been a great encouragement and a gracious gift.”
After offering drive-in church in the early stages of the pandemic, The Baptist Church on Homedale in Klamath Falls, OR, began offering two in-person worship services in early June and small groups under 25 persons are approved for meeting while staying in compliance with the Phase 1 reopening order for Klamath County. The church has a thorough sanitization team that prepares the building and focus on classrooms, auditorium, kitchen and bathrooms, while offering sanitization stations distributed throughout the campus, according to John Wu, associate pastor.
“We are encouraging our greeters and congregation to refrain from shaking hands during our services out of respect for the health and safety of our church family,” Wu said. “No bulletins/programs will be distributed and additionally all of our staff members have been tested for COVID.”
As additional phases are allowed, BCH leaders will arrange seating in the auditorium, foyer and kitchen areas that comply with the requirements so that families can sit safely together. The church asks volunteers on their children’s, safety, hospitality, greeting and check-in teams.
All children will have their temperature taking with a non-contact, infrared thermometer,” Wu noted. “A child with a temperature of over 100 degrees will be asked to rest for five minutes and rescan. If the temperature persists, the participant’s family will be notified and asked to take their child home. All children will be asked to wash and or sanitize their hands at the beginning of each class time.”
The church will also continue live-streaming music and the weekly sermon for those who prefer the security of worshipping from home.
While Calvary Baptist Church in Newport, OR, elected to delay the resumption of services until Phase 2 due to the age and health issues of most members, one thing that not put on hold was their ministry to the homeless and hungry in the area. Long known to have a heart for those less fortunate, the church has provided meals two times per week for many years in their fellowship hall.
“In order to keep everyone safe we had to stay out of the building,” said Fredda Butler, who has worked tirelessly alongside her daughter and son-in-law Barbara and Dan Ballas to keep the program running. “Our solution to that problem was to feed a hot meal from the back door. It took some quick planning and changing things around but we have not missed a meal. Those we feed are very grateful but they miss being able to come in and sit and visit, which we can’t risk.”
The crew also hands out drinks, snacks tarps and masks, according to Butler, who have served over 1,000 meals since the onset of the pandemic, an incredible feat for a very small church with a 100 year old kitchen that was last remodeled in 1985.
Members at First Baptist Church in Toledo, WA, were treated to a fun and informative YouTube video as the church rolled out criteria for meeting at a local park. Included in the video were instructions on parking distances, reminders about no in-person contact, seating arrangements, restroom information and more.
Pastor Joe Martin also provided a taped session as he and Dr. Rob McElhaney discussed COVID-related concerns for church members. McElhaney noted that previous crises impacting Americans included wars that unified people rather than driving citizens apart.
“Don’t look for things that just fit your ideology,” McElhaney said. “Those with medical issues would be more protected at church if everyone wore masks. Science shows it reduces spread by 20 percent and social distancing is even more effective than masks.”
McElhaney noted that hardship can reveal where someone is at spiritually at times.
“There is as much political divide as I’ve ever experienced and racial divide has added to this like a powder keg,” McElhaney said. “We need to focus on where we will be spiritually when this is over.”
Martin encouraged churches to show love in the midst of the pandemic, through such actions as keeping aware of others’ needs or actions as simple as providing masks, reaching out to the newly unemployed and keeping in touch with those with social needs, which might just be too much family togetherness.
For additional church resources regarding steps to reopening, visit https://www.nwbaptist.org/nwbc_resources/covid-19-info/.