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Boyle churches making plans to return to in-person services

Choe Sergent, pastor at Junction City First Baptist Church, said he and many of the leaders at JCFBC wanted to be cautious about coming back together for in-person worship services.

As churches across Kentucky were allowed to resume in-person worship services last Sunday, churches from communities around Boyle County are taking their own unique approaches to how and when they will take that step.

A ruling from U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove paved the way for the reopening of churches, but many local churches are planning to wait it out a few more weeks as they make preparations for the long-awaited return to in-person worship.

Choe Sergent, pastor at Junction City First Baptist Church, said he and many of the leaders at JCFBC wanted to be cautious about coming back together for in-person worship services.

“We have made people’s health the number one priority,” Sergent said. “We definitely did not want, under any circumstances, to reopen too early and God forbid something happen and COVID-19 spread. We wanted the community to know that above all, this is loving our neighbor in a new way.”

Sergent said the church established a reopening committee, bringing together church leaders as well as law enforcement and medical professionals, all of whom attend church at JCFBC.

One of the nurses who is on the committee is also on a similar committee at the hospital, according to Sergent, so having that expertise is extremely valuable as decisions are made.

“That’s the level of rigor that we want to use,” he said. “We don’t want to half-do this. We value people’s safety.”

Sergent said he wanted the committee to have voices from all angles, from the medical side of things to make sure they were doing all they could to keep people healthy, as well as those with law enforcement backgrounds to assist with things like traffic flow.

As for a date of return, Sergent said he was not certain at the time. He said he plans to rely heavily on those with medical expertise to help determine when the best time to return would be, but he thought at the earliest, it would be Sunday, May 31.

A lot goes into reopening for in-person worship, as church leaders try to satisfy social distancing and public health guidelines. As for JCFBC, the church is reducing its seating to meet guidelines and they are also adding more services. Sergent said the church already did multiple services, but they may add a couple more. Those attending are going to be asked to RSVP so church leaders can begin counting how many people will be at each service to make sure they do not exceed capacity.

On top of those measures, Sergent said they’re making sure to get plenty of hand sanitizer for congregants to use.

Those coming to church will also need to wear a face covering, so Sergent said several women in the church came together and started making masks for people to wear that didn’t already have one. These masks will even have a special flare to them.

“The masks are going to have our church logo on them,” Sergent said. “They’ll be available for anyone who needs one and they can take them home with them and bring it back.”

Churches will not be having children’s services as they return, but Sergent said some people in the church stepped up to help out the many families with children that attend.

“What we’re actually doing to help families with kids is we’re producing in-house coloring books,” Sergent said. “It’s almost like a restaurant. The kids come in and they get crayons and coloring books.”

He said many people in the church have stepped up over the last several weeks to provide church services virtually via their Facebook and YouTube pages, as well as devotionals, virtual prayer meetings, children lessons and Bible studies.

That isn’t all, though. By following the JCFBC Facebook page, viewers may also see live worship music and even family game nights and yoga tutorials.

“We’re fortunate to have a really good staff,” Sergent said. “We want to have something every day to interact with families.”

This has also been a time for the younger members of the congregation to use their knowledge and skills with technology to help some of the older people in the church use technology to stay connected and watch services, Sergent said. Church staff members have also been on call to help older members be able to watch services online.

Sergent said the church plans to continue to offer this content online moving forward, and the shutdown of in-person services forced the church to think differently of how to reach people.

“Our level of Facebook Live just wasn’t where it needed to be,” Sergent said. “But this caused us to learn new things, purchase additional equipment, and get really good at it. We plan to keep this going because it’s been really popular.”

Aside from increasing their online presence, Sergent said the church has found other ways to engage people in the pandemic. At Easter, some members of the church delivered Easter baskets containing Easter egg hunting kits and dropped them off at people’s houses. On Mother’s Day, they delivered flowers to every woman in the church.

People miss gathering together at church for worship services, but Sergent said his congregation has been very understanding as leaders try to decide the best way to approach coming together again.

“There hasn’t been a lot of pressure to reopen,” he said. “Sure, people miss it and want to get back together, but they understand the situation we’re in and they value that we’re going to make the best decision for everyone’s health.”

Sergent said he looks for the good in things, and in the midst of the negative with the virus, he said he hopes people see the church as a group that has been trying to help people.

“I think it’s a great time for the church to let people know that,” Sergent said. “The church is often bashed with people saying we’re just concerned about getting money. No. That’s the farthest thing from our minds right now. We want to help. We want to love you and we want to get you through this.”

 

Finding different ways to minister in an unprecedented time

Jason Kilby, pastor at Centerpoint Church in Danville, wants to minister to people in any way he can. Whether in person or digitally, he said he just aims to show people love and spread the gospel.

Kilby said Centerpoint has been doing a lot digitally, noting the change in how important a church’s digital footprint is right now and the importance moving forward, even when in-person worship services begin again.

“You look at 15 years ago, digital was an opportunity,” he said. “Now, it’s a necessity. That’s a huge piece that has increased what we do on a regular basis. Even for us and as a church body, we see a couple hundred people on an average Sunday morning. Now, you’re seeing 4,000 people on a Sunday morning. I think we may have rushed into online ministry like other churches around here, but we aren’t going to rush out. I think that’s a huge missing piece in our culture, especially for the next generation coming up because they’re so connected digitally. If we can connect with them digitally, then we can invite them into something more spiritual when we all feel safe.”

Centerpoint has taken a unique approach to online ministry, Kilby said. One unique thing he said the church is doing is called “Thursday Night Live,” where Kilby, along with a worship team, come together (while practicing social distancing) at different locations around Boyle County and play worship music while Kilby delivers a brief message. This begins at around 8:30 p.m. each Thursday night.

At each location, Kilby also shares some historical information and unique facts to make people more aware of the history in Boyle County and the significance of the county’s various landmarks and notable locations. The group has met at locations such as the Boyle County Courthouse, Constitution Square, Danville and Boyle County high schools.

“We have just been telling a storyline as we go along,” Kilby said. “A lot of people have tuned in for that. I think a lot of it is the curiosity of where we’re going to be next. It’s just a short, mid-week inspirational with live worship and a message that’s really targeted toward where we’re at and what we’re talking about.”

On top of that, groups are meeting through platforms like Zoom, and the church has a prayer line set up where people who want to talk to someone or have someone for the church pray for them or someone they know can text the number and someone will connect with them.

“We’ve had more opportunities to connect digitally than a lot of people do to connect physically,” Kilby said. “I think it’s kind of healthy for us in some aspects to never forget this moment or this opportunity. We took it as an opportunity instead of a ‘woe is me’ moment.”

The pandemic, he said, has provided Christians an opportunity to check their faith.

“In my honest opinion, it’s given us a platform to get serious because if you’re sharing this stuff digitally, you’ve just become a missionary,” Kilby said. “People who have never shared their worship services before are now hosting watch parties. It’s been really neat to watch.”

Kilby doesn’t claim to know all the answers. He said it isn’t easy to figure out when and how to reopen the church to in-person worship services.

“You have to ask all the tough questions, and we’ve asked a lot of those tough questions to our people,” Kilby said. “We’re still learning and trying to figure things out. I don’t think anybody has the perfect answer.”

For Kilby, he said there are so many unknowns with COVID-19 that make these decisions even more difficult.

“We just don’t know,” Kilby said. “Nobody does. It’s OK to say I don’t know. I just want to err on the side of caution because I love my people. There’s nothing greater than seeing my friends, hugging them, hanging out with them, being part of their life spiritually, walking with them, crying with them and seeing babies born. There’s just so much unknown, but I have to say that because of the love I have for you, I’m going to stand at a distance.”

Kilby has assembled a team at Centerpoint to answer tough questions and make decisions about the reopening of the church.

As for now, Kilby said they’re looking at the end of May or the beginning of June to open up for in-person worship, but he admits that could change in the days and weeks ahead.

While he said every church is different, he can’t imagine rushing back into in-person services just for the sake of trying to return to normalcy as soon as possible because overall, it’s about people and if that’s the case, things may look a lot different moving forward.

“If you care about your people, you don’t want to just turn them loose into a pandemic,” Kilby said. “You don’t want to hurt them. I think we just have to think through things and be wise.  It all comes back to the people. Jesus was about people.”

 

“Our number one priority is the safety of our members.”

Pastor Aaron Hackworth at Perryville Baptist Church hopes his church will be able to return to in-person worship on Sunday, May 24.

Services at PBC will be a little different than normal, Hackworth said. Normally the church did not perform two services, but that will begin when they return to make sure congregants can properly social distance at the church.

“Normally when we meet for just our one service, we’re almost always full,” Hackworth said. “So we’ll have the same service, just twice now and at different times.”

Outside of adding another service, Hackworth said the church is only allowing entrance through one set of doors, taking up hymnals and Bibles from the benches, and performing non-contact temperature scans.

“I think that helps give us a peace of mind so that we can make sure nobody that is there is running a fever,” Hackworth said. “And we’ll of course have the words to the music up on the screen. That’s something that we already did though.”

He also noted that people will be wearing masks during service, as outlined by the CDC and the governor’s office.

Hackworth said he hopes that the church will be able to resume having Sunday school classes again soon, and for the time being, they aren’t resuming Wednesday night services.

The church, he said, typically feeds up to 120 children on Wednesday nights, but right now, they are not able to do that.

The church falls under the Kentucky Baptist Convention, which worked with Gov. Beshear on creating guidelines for churches to resume in-person worship services.

“So we will definitely be in compliance with those guidelines,” he said.

Hackworth said he had meetings with deacons of the church as well as some of the church staff about how they can safely return to gathering together, but he said he also sought the advice of medical professionals to provide their insight.

At the end of the day, the number one priority was the safety of the congregation, Hackworth said.

“Everybody has an opinion, but our number one priority was the safety of our members,” Hackworth said. “Regardless of the fact that we were given the opportunity to return this past Sunday (May 10), that wasn’t even a thought for us. We can watch and see how the curve changes. If we need to, we can return back to live-streaming services. That is an option if we see a spike and think that our people are at risk. Gathering is important and it’s our priority, but above that, the safety of our people is number one.”

Live-streaming services is relatively new for Hackworth. He’s been at PBC for about a year and they just began live-streaming their services about six months ago. It started as a way to get a live feed to their nursery, but it has worked out really well for being able to provide a church service during the pandemic.

“Our reach has grown during this,” he said. “We’ve reached a lot of people that normally we wouldn’t and we’ve had friends of ours watching that aren’t going to their church now. It’s been interesting to watch, but it just isn’t the same as gathering together.”

Hackworth hopes that although virtual worship is what is available right now, that they will remember the power of physically gathering together for worship.

“We’re stronger together,” Hackworth said. “My argument is that there is no substitute for a worship gathering.”

Hackworth also said he tried to survey the people in the church to gather their thoughts. He received several responses over a diverse swath of the congregation that helped guide the decision-making process.

As things change with the virus seemingly daily, Hackworth said the best thing churches can do is remain flexible.

“It’s just going to be touch and go, day by day,” he said. “That’s the hard part about this. Nobody has led through this who is alive. We just aim to be faithful through all of this. That’s our goal.”