By Dave Taylor
After weeks of being forced to close, churches across the state are being allowed to open again but in Hancock County the timeframes vary per church, with some opening soon, others waiting due to extenuating circumstances, and at least one having already opened.
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear originally said churches could reopen on May 20 if they followed strict guidelines including no congregational singing, but a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order on May 8 and ruled that churches could reopen as they wished, which Patesville Baptist Church did last week.
“We started back Sunday and we had a pretty good turnout,” said Steve Jackson, pastor of Patesville Baptist.
He estimated the crowd at about 50 percent of normal attendance, and congregants kept their distance from each other the best they could and followed other safety guidelines during the service.
“We’re not shaking hands, which is kind of customary,” he said. “We always did have all that hand sanitizer stuff out, so that’s not nothing new for us. We’ve been doing that for a long time.”
His church went ahead and sang hymns and otherwise had a pretty traditional service.
“It was not much (different),” he said.
Lewisport United Methodist Church is going ahead with a May 24 opening as originally planned after the governor’s announcement, but with many restrictions handed down by the denomination and the bishop.
“He gave us very detailed information about what to do and it’s seven pages long, a lot of things and so I haven’t read completely yet,” said LUMC’s pastor Joseph Kim said Friday.
He believed the rules followed CDC guidelines, but the changes would be several, including social distancing.
“No hand shakes, no hugging and no greeting time, or no passing out the offering plate and wearing masks, that kind of thing,” he said.
The bishop said all items must be removed from the pews, including hymnals, Bibles and pens.
“According to the guidelines it says people should wear masks,” Kim said. “I don’t know how we can implement this. I already told this to someone in my congregation and they feel very uncomfortable.”
Methodist churches can sing as a congregation, but the denomination’s guidance says that masks must be worn when singing.
“II think everybody in our congregation, most of them they are wearing masks when they go grocery shopping right now,” he said. We have someone who actually can make masks for people, so if someone needs a mask, she can make the mask.”
Hawesville Baptist Church has yet to set a date for reopening, but it announced in a YouTube video the reasons for the delay, which deal partially with the current opening at the role of pastor.
Pastor Mark Ayers, who previously led both HBC and its Indiana campus Crossroads Tell City, said the difference in rules between the states caused some problems so the church was going to decide on its own.
“We are still one congregation with two locations, one in Kentucky and one in Indiana,” Ayers said. “…We are going to modify those guidelines to fit our circumstances and what is deemed best for both churches.”
“We believe a June reopening will give us a better understanding of the effects experienced by others,” he said. “It will also protect our most vulnerable members and allow us as much normalcy as possible.”
Ayers said he wants the church to be at full capacity when it returns because it will be considering a candidate for pastor in the first service back.
“That’s one of the reasons why it’s so important for us to be back to normal as much as possible,” he said.
First Baptist Church in Lewisport is planning to open on June 14, according to a post on its Facebook page from pastor Elmer Shelby, and it lists the restrictions and rules they will be following.
Everyone entering the building will have their temperature taken with a touchless thermometer, the post said, and if it’s 100 or more the person will be asked to leave.
Masks will be required to enter and they will be provided by the church to those who don’t have one.
There will be no hand shaking, no passing of the offering plate, and everyone will maintain a six-foot distance.
There will also be no singing, but instead the church will use the piano and play videos.
Members can come to the church before June 14, it says, but the same rules will apply, and those who don’t wish to come in person even after June 14 can continue to view the service online via livestream.
For Revive Community Church, the date for returning isn’t entirely in their hands due to the location of their services.
“We don’t have a set date yet,” said lead pastor Kevin Husk. “We have kind of a goal of if things continue to go well, sometime in June probably, early to mid June.”
If they wanted to start very soon they wouldn’t be able to in their previous setup.
“We use the middle school as our location,” he said. “Currently the schools, under the direction of the governor, they’re not getting together in groups.”
So until people are allowed to gather in groups in schools, the church will have to wait.
“Obviously we could look at other places and potentially rent the community center or the fairgrounds or the library or something like that, but we kind of knew that was one of the factors,” he said.
They also want to wait anyway just to give the members time to figure out how to return to services safely.
“Another factor is just knowing that we have lots of young families that have little kids, knowing that’s going to be really hard to navigate teaching kids to be around people but stay with their immediate family,” he said. “…Instead of just saying, ‘We’ll see you next weekend. Don’t forget to tell your kids they can’t go running up to their friends,’ that kind of thing.”
For Jackson and Patesville, returning is a matter of faith and relying on God’s providence.
“I was reading the passage where they brought the lepers to Jesus and he touched them. He wasn’t scared of that,” he said. “I don’t believe the Lord’s scared of the coronavirus, and we’re not to fear either… If he allows us to get it then he’s going to bring something good out of it, you know.”