As dining rooms, salons and gyms begin to reopen their doors to the public, some churches are still not holding in-person services.
First Baptist Church of New Albany will resume in-person services on June 7, said Pastor Andrew Chesteen.
"We're excited," said Chesteen. "We feel confident that we're taking appropriate measures. We feel like it's important to get back into public worship services. We really can't wait to see our people back and to be able to worship together."
Usually, First Baptist Church of New Albany has two morning services with an average total attendance of 515 people between the two services. But a third worship service will be added once the church starts meeting in person again.
One of the services will be for seniors, and the other two services will be assigned by last name in an effort to keep the attendance at 50 percent capacity or less.
First Baptist Church has been delivering church services over Facebook, on MaxxSouth Channel 44 and on AM radio 1470. Those options will still be available once in-person church starts again, he noted.
People who are sick or still not comfortable attending church can continue to watch or listen from home.
A number of precautions are being taken as First Baptist prepares to start in-person services again.
"We're going to be sanitizing our facilities prior to our first public gatherings," Chesteen said.
There will also be efforts to clean and sanitize in between services. The church doors on Main Street and Bankhead will be open so people will not have to touch door handles.
Another safety measure being taken is that people will be sitting on every other pew.
"We're going to provide cloth masks for our congregants, and we'll have hand sanitizing stations available," he said.
The offering plate will not be passed. Offerings will still be taken the way they have been throughout the pandemic. People can mail in offerings, give through the website or drop offerings in boxes at the church.
Wednesday night services will still be held virtually at First Baptist.
The safety measures will be in place for as "long as necessary. Things change week to week right now, day to day even," Chesteen said.
He is still trying to connect with his congregation throughout the coronavirus pandemic. First Baptist Church has not had in-person services in more than 10 weeks. The experience has been challenging, but it has also been an opportunity to learn and grow and to “be better in the days ahead,” Chesteen added.
“We’ve been calling our church members and just trying to stay connected as best we can," Chesteen said.
First Baptist Church will not be hosting a traditional Vacation Bible School. Instead, Vacation Bible School will be held Wednesday nights in August beginning Aug. 12.
Tim Prather, pastor at First United Methodist Church in New Albany, said his church will also return to in-person services June 7. He said the church has a health advisory team of doctors, nurses and lay leaders who made the decision on when to reopen.
There will be two services when in-person church resumes at First United Methodist, said Prather. There will be a contemporary service at 9 a.m. in the gym and a traditional service at 11 a.m. in the sanctuary.
Prather said he feels good about the June 7 date to bring people back in the church.
"We're going to ask people to wear masks, and we're going to have hand sanitizer" said Prather. "We're going to have some social distancing within the service. I feel pretty good about it with the precautions we're taking."
There will also be masks available at the church for people who do not have them, he said.
“It won’t be quite the same, but it will be a step back toward normal,” Prather said.
It’s been very challenging not having the congregation there in person, said Prather.
“Not being able to see the church family has been very tough in many ways,” he said.
Prather still feels as though the church is connecting with the congregation with texts and phone calls.
“But it’s never the same as seeing people once or twice a week in worship and church,” Prather said. “I think our congregation has done its best to try to stay connected to friends and loved ones within the community of faith certainly.”
Prather noted that the church has never really closed but has just been “doing things in a different way and reaching people in different ways. Ministry has still continued through this.”
He said the church has been feeding people and holding online Bible studies. Sunday school classes are meeting online, he added.
“We’ve had some good mission opportunities during this time as well,” Prather said.
The total average Sunday attendance at First United Methodist is about 330.
It looks as though First United Methodist Church will not have in-person Vacation Bible School, said Prather.
“We’ll being doing some kind of virtual Bible school for parents and kids to engage in,” Prather said.
Hillcrest Baptist Church will also restart in-person services on June 7, said Pastor Charlie Davis. To reduce the number of people who are in the church at one time, there will be two services instead of one. The services will be divided alphabetically by people's last names.
In addition, Hillcrest will provide masks and gloves at the door, and people will be encouraged to spread out in the church.
"Things will be cleaned well prior to the service," Davis said.
The choir will not return right away, and childcare will not be provided at first. Sunday school classes will not meet in person initially. He expects this protocol will be in place for several weeks and then things will be slowly phased back in.