The pastor of First United Methodist Church in New Albany said he would like to go back to having in-person church services at Easter, but he is “doubtful” that will happen.
“I’m pessimistic about it I really am,” said First UMC of New Albany Pastor Tim Prather. “I hope we get to of course.”
Prather said he thinks the coronavirus will still be presenting a problem at Easter.
“I don’t see us coming back to in-person worship in the next few weeks,” Prather said.
Easter is April 12.
Prather noted that his church has a health advisory team that is looking into when in-person church services may be able to resume.
“They will be meeting to kind of guide that decision,” Prather said.
He said he just wants to do what he can to protect the people who attend the church from the coronavirus.
“This virus is so very contagious it’s just not a good idea to be meeting in large groups right now,” Prather said.
His church averages 300 attendees on Sundays, which presents too much potential for spreading the illness, he noted.
During the coronavirus pandemic, First UMC has been holding online church services.
Canceling in-person church service is the hardest decision he’s had to make as a pastor, Prather said.
“I’ve never pastored through a pandemic before,” Prather said. “I’m kind of learning as I go.”
Going through this experience has been “hectic” and stressful,” said Prather.
Fortunately, he has been able to stay connected with his church during the coronavirus crisis. Other than holding church services online, he also has an online Bible study Wednesday nights.
The church’s children’s minister has also been doing online activities.
First Baptist Church of New Albany Pastor Andrew Chesteen also said it is “highly unlikely” that in-person services will be held at his church on Easter.
It is “incredibly disappointing” that the church may not be able to have Easter with people in attendance, Chesteen said.
“But we’re not going to get too upset about it,” he said. “We’re just going to do the best we can with what we have.”
Whenever the church does go back to meeting in person, an Easter celebration will be held then, he said. It is going to be called resurrection Sunday.
Chesteen said First Baptist will follow local and state guidance in terms of when it can go back to meeting in person. First Baptist Church’s average Sunday worship attendance is 515.
The church has not met in person for the past few weeks, but people can watch online or on TV.
The online services at First Baptist have been going really well since the coronavirus pandemic started, Chesteen added. He noted that the church has remained engaged through the crisis.
“We see it as a great opportunity to speak into the lives of people who need hope,” Chesteen said.
It has been a challenging and encouraging time to go through this as a pastor.
“I’ve tried to communicate to our people that we should see this problem as an opportunity for us to really be the church and show the love of Christ,” Chesteen said.
He added that the church has seen more blessings than burdens during the past few weeks.
It has also been exciting to see how cooperative the church has been even though the members have been separated, Chesteen said.
People take for granted being able to gather and worship on a Sunday morning, and “that’s been stripped away from us right now,” he said.
Chesteen thinks there will be a new “passion, excitement and appreciation” for worship on the Lord’s day once the crisis is over.
“We’re looking forward to that,” he said.
He said people have a hope that’s bigger than a virus and that they can have peace in their hearts in the midst of all the panic.
But for now Chesteen thinks it is wise for churches to not be meeting in person as the coronavirus crisis continues.