(Lewisburg, W.Va.) While churches never had to officially close in West Virginia, bans on gatherings of ten people or more effectively made in-person worship services nearly impossible for most churches. But even now as West Virginia reopens, some churches are hesitant to do the same.
Pastor Anna Pinckney Straight at Old Stone Presbyterian Church in Lewisburg sums up the direction most churches have gone during the Coronavirus pandemic by saying, "We like to say church isn't cancelled it's just moved online." Her church offers a live radio broadcast of the service. The audio later lives on the church's website. She hopes to move to video soon. The online offering was something the church pivoted to amidst Coronavirus restrictions, but she said the online offering is something they will keep.
Reverend Bev Colombo at Lewisburg United Methodist Church said her church also moved services online. The church hosts a Facebook live broadcast, which also lives on the church's website. She said the live stream receives more views than the number of people that normally attend Sunday service. "What happens is a friend of a friend, and an aunt, or someone that can’t get off work on Sundays, or someone that just isn’t connected here yet, has been able to log in and see what we’re about," said Reverend Colombo.
Both churches have been evaluating the idea of reopening, but ultimately both church leaders are hesitant to reopen. "Not locally in West Virginia, but we’re hearing stories about churches that did all of the things they were supposed to do in early March and the virus spread. And none of us want to be that congregation. We don’t want to be the source of something that harms the people we love," said Pastor Pinckney Straight.
Reverend Colombo said her church has established a reopening committee made up of church leaders and doctors who will meet for the first time Thursday. She said she knows the church will not open in the month of May.
But both church leaders say when they do reopen, church service will look a lot different. Pastor Pinckney Straight said, "What we’re learning from the scientists and the doctors, is that until there is a vaccine or until we know a good deal more about this virus, worship won’t be like it was before. Singing is not going to be safe in the sanctuary for some time to come." Pinckney said the respiratory droplets that are expelled from a singer's mouth when they sing can spread the virus.
Reverend Colombo said right now Centers for Disease Control guidelines indicate masks should be worn at church services and surfaces should be sanitized.
Pastor Pinckney said when her church does hold in-person services, at first it will just be a small prayer service.
Guidelines from the state provide best practices for churches whose leaders feel it is safe to reopen.