The spread of COVID-19 across the state of Georgia has drastically altered many facets of people’s lives. And religion has not been left out of what has had to change. With Easter right around the corner, some churches in Madison County have debated switching to drive-in services for this Sunday.Why It’s Newsworthy: Churches across the country have been changing to online services to reduce the spread of COVID-19. But with Easter coming up this weekend, some churches are deciding to make the switch to drive-in services, at least for this Sunday.
In a Facebook post from last Friday, the Madison County Sheriff’s Office explained the specific guidelines regarding Gov. Brian Kemp’s shelter-in-place order from last week. The Sheriff’s Office had especially been receiving questions about allowing parking lot religious services in the area.
“At this time we are not shutting down any religious service that continues to have short parking lot service as long as each family remains in their vehicles. We are simply asking you to follow the recommendation of Gov. Kemp and not do so,” the Facebook post from the Sheriff’s Office reads.
The same day that post was published though, the Georgia Baptist Mission Board hosted a conference call with Gov. Kemp to discuss the executive order. At the beginning of the call, one of the hosts asked the governor whether churches are allowed to have drive-in services and if a small group of church leaders can use church facilities to record and stream services.
“The answer to both those questions are yes. I have a strong belief that right now, more than ever, our people need their faith leaders,” Kemp responded in the conference call, which was posted on the Georgia Baptist Mission Board’s website.
But it seems that everyone still has different takes on whether parking lot services are the answer for Easter this weekend.
Trinity Baptist Church in Danielsville, Georgia, has decided that drive-in services are the answer for them. Robby Brown, who’s been the pastor of the church for the past 20 years, said they’ve been doing live streams instead of in-person services since March 22, but the church wanted to do something different for Easter.
Listen here as Brown explains why his church wants to try drive-in services for Easter.
The church is having four separate, identical services throughout Sunday morning, as well as a live stream for those who would be better off at home. Families will not be allowed to leave their vehicles, and Brown said they plan for each car to be at least two parking spaces apart.
Colbert United Methodist Church in Colbert, Georgia, which has also been doing online services through Facebook Live and Zoom for several weeks, has a different approach.
“For right now, we are not going to be doing any, even drive-in worship. We feel that it’s too important to help everybody distance and prevent the spread of this thing…I have been uncomfortable even having our audio visual guy or any of the other staff come to the church to help because some of them have compromised immune systems or are older or high risk for some other reason, and it’s just not worth it, ” said the church’s pastor, Joe Gunby.
Gunby said members of higher leadership in the United Methodist denomination have also discouraged these drive-in services and have recommended that the church stay closed at other times during the week as well.
Listen here as Gunby further explains his church’s response to COVID-19 and how it relates to his religion.
Even with safety precautions in place, the Georgia state government’s call center, 1-800-GEORGIA, recommends that such drive-in services not take place.
“Having drive-through services for churches are non-essential at this time as well. It is risky because it does involve more than ten people, even if you are in your cars,” explained one of the call center’s representatives.
Whether churches have decided to partake in drive-in services for Easter or not, these church leaders advise using common sense and staying encouraged during these unprecedented times.
Emma Goldsmith is a senior majoring in journalism in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.
(Featured photo is courtesy of Pastor Robby Brown.)
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