JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - With hundreds of churches across the state planning how to re-open and protect their congregations from coronavirus in the process, the head of the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board said some leaders are considering temporary changes to worship services.
This could include removing commonly touched items like hymnals, bibles, offering and communion plates, and telling members not to sing because it could violate social distancing practices.
“We are being told that singing, actually, might be a violation of the six-foot rule because when you sing, you actually project a little further than six feet. So we are giving a lot of thought to how churches can worship without singing immediately," said MCBC executive director and treasurer Shawn Parker.
Parker, who maintains contact with many of the more-than-2,000 Mississippi Baptist churches that make up the organization, said some church personnel have told him they’re also considering separating members by six feet during services, except members of the same family or household, an idea shared by other denominations as well.
“We’re anticipating maybe having a little bit more services than we normally would, with smaller numbers from our congregation attending, distanced in family groups six feet apart throughout our sanctuary, and having more services so that more people can attend," said senior minister David Strain of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson.
Strain said they’ve consulted with doctors and experts to make sure parishioners will be as safe as possible when they re-open their doors, which could come as early as next month, but those will likely be very different than what people are used to.
They’re also making changes to the services themselves: no hymnals, offering plates and communion may also be limited, all because of the risk of infection.
Though Gov. Tate Reeves made it clear he did not feel he had the power to tell churches to open or remain closed, most in the state have shifted to online worship services, utilizing streaming options like Facebook.
Nationally, this practice has led to fewer tithes and offerings from parishoners in many states.
Parker said he’s aware of that happening in a few instances.
“I’ve heard of some churches experiencing a decline up to about 30 percent. That, however, is the minority," Parker said. "Most of the churches I have talked with, if they’ve experienced a decline at all, they’ve received 85 percent to 100 percent of what they would have received compared with last year.”
Strain said they haven’t seen a drop off, either; however, leaders made the decision to postpone a summer camp that typically brings in a substantial amount of revenue for the organization.
“Our giving has not really suffered over these last few months; in fact, people who were giving in person here are actually giving much more online."
Strain says online offerings have tripled in recent weeks and because of that -- and the extra workload that comes with daily devotionals and other added duties -- they haven’t had to lay off any staff.
They’re all just waiting for the right moment to bring people back.
“I can’t promise that no one will get sick or difficult things -- there aren’t difficult things ahead. There may yet be, but we want to face them in faith and we want to face them together," Strain said.