Churches juggle holiday season with coronavirus restrictions

Churches and COVID-19 restrictions

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - When Governor Ralph Northam made his announcement to increase COVID-19 restrictions in Virginia, he also made a plea to church leaders, asking them to keep churchgoers safe.

Richmond’s First Baptist Church says they’ve made several changes to their services since the pandemic began. On Sunday mornings, the church’s congregation watches religious services at home.

“We’ve been streaming our services for about 10-11 years or so,” said Jim Norvelle, chair of Richmond First Baptist Church’s COVID-19 response team.

The COVID-19 response team was created in March, when they made the decision to suspend in-person services. The church resumed in-person services again in October, until this week.

“We decided this past week that we had to suspend again because of the increase in the coronavirus in the greater Richmond area,” Norvelle said. “We’ve been monitoring the health data ever since we established ourselves as a team, looking at positivity rate, hospitalizations, certain cases.”

As part of increased COVID-19 restrictions, Northam dropped the social gathering limit to 10 people – it was previously 25. The limit does not apply to religious services, but during his announcement on Thursday, Northam sent a message to religious leaders.

“I strongly call on our faith leaders to lead the way and set an example for their members. Worship with a mask on is still worship, worship outside or worship online is still worship,” Northam said.

With the holidays right around the corner, First Baptist Church will only be doing in-person services for special events, but with several precautions.

“Tonight, for example, our youth Christmas pageant is occurring. But it’s occurring outdoors in the courtyard on the property, not in the church,” Norvelle said. “We’re asking people if they wanna come, they need to go on the website and register. And of course, they have to wear a mask, and they have to stand separate from other families.”

The church says it’s also adjusted ministry work.

“Our kitchen staff has been preparing about 150 meals every Wednesday for people to drive through the parking lot and pick up and take home with them,” Norvelle said.

As for when the church will go back to in person services, they don’t know. They say it all depends on the data, but they’re hoping to resume as soon as possible. You can stream their services on their Facebook page.

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