With restrictions, churches begin welcoming worshippers

With restrictions, churches begin welcoming worshippers

Posted June 25, 2020


Enquirer~Democrat managing editor

Many churches in the area, if they were not already doing so beforehand, went to an online format to stream services shortly after the governor’s shelter in place order was issued in mid-March.

In late May, the governor announced he would be not issuing a response to a legal challenge calling the closure of churches statewide unconstitutional. Since then, many local churches have announced plans to resume regular worship services.

Many local churches were already providing services online – either live or taped for viewing on YouTube at a later date.

“We were live streaming,” said Tim Rhodus, pastor of Cross Church, which has locations in Carlinville, Hettick and Staunton. “We had done that for years. We are still doing that.”

Earlier this month, on June 14, the church opened up, allowing up to a 25 percent occupancy, according to Rhodus.

The church building in Carlinville holds 800 people, and they have room for 200 seats, spaced out in groupings spread out six feet apart. “That’s to accommodate a family four, a group of two,” Rhodus said. “That’s how we’ve got it set up.”

Worshipers do not have to touch anything except the chair they sit in, Rhodus said.

“We have hand sanitizers and the doors are open,” Rhodus said. “We’re doing everything we can to make it a touchless service.”

Cross Church is not having a coffee hour and there is no communion at this time, Rhodus said.

“Some churches did have services pre-taped,” Rhodus said. “We did it live. I came to church and we had a bare bones group of people, five or six, which included three musicians. We did social distancing. Cameras were set up so people didn’t have to move to a different spot and a soundboard operator helped make sure all the microphones were operating properly.

The Carlinville campus, which has services at 9 and 10:30 a.m., had an attendance of 170 June 14. Rhodus said there were 23 at Hettick and 35 at Staunton. In addition, he said there were 207 “unique devices” watching online. He noted this metric doesn’t include how many individuals are watching at one specific location.

Prior to the shut down order — in late February to early March — the church had a combined attendance in the upper 400s or lower 500s.

“We have masks for people but we’re making them optional not required,” Rhodus said.

Another safety precaution was the installation of ionizers into the facility’s HVAC system at Carlinville, Staunton and Hettick, which destroys any particles in the air.

“The technology has always been around,” he noted. “We’re doing it to make people feel safe.”

Rhodus understands the church gets different worshipers attending every week.

“It’s not the same people in church every week,” Rhodus said. “It’s also summer. We don’t know what to expect.”

“The CDC guidelines are where we got the percentages,” Rhodus said. The church will remain at its 25 percent occupancy through the end of June, then possibly allow up to 50 percent capacity in July.

There will be no children’s ministry at Cross Church.

“We’re all having church together,” Rhodus said.

Local Catholic churches

Father Michael Haag, who oversees services at Ss. Simon & Jude Catholic Church in Gillespie, St. Josepth Catholic CHurch in Benld and Ss. Mary & Joseph in Carlinville has been posted homilies online at macoupincatholicchurch.com as well as the Macoupin Catholic Church Facebook page.

An announcement of the changes within the service was posted earlier this month, notifying members that several pews would be blocked off and that the offering plates would not be passed. Instead, attendees were told to provide their offering in a collection basket after church.

Starting June 7, communion services were held Saturday and Sunday in both Carlinville and Gillespie.

The first regular week welcoming members back was June 13 and 14, with a 5:30 p.m. mass in Carlinville Saturday and a 9 a.m. mass Sunday.

First United Methodist Church of Gillespie

Since March 22 the First United Methodist Church of Gillespie has not held in-person services.

“We were doing a Facebook livestream each Sunday at 8 a.m.,” said pastor Larry Moreau.

The last two Sundays — June 14 and 21 — the congregation has hosted an outside service with people sitting in the church property lawn or in their cars, along with social distancing and face masks.

“Our attendance at the outside service was about half of our usual attendance  — we had 65 and we usually run 110-120 before the pandemic,” Moreau said. “Our members who attended were very glad to be back together after no in-person worship services since March.”

When services inside resume, Moreau said the proper steps will be taken.

“We will take the necessary precautions when we go back inside,” Moreau said. “Most of our members are not overly concerned about catching the coronavirus but we tell our folks if they have any concerns they should stay away and watch our Facebook service.”

Zion Lutheran Gillespie

Zion Lutheran in Gillespie began welcoming members back June 14.

“That was fun this morning,” pastor Christine Erdmann posted June 14 on Facebook. “A good crowd at both services at Zion-Gillespie – the first inside worship since March 15. Everyone said how happy they were to see one another and talk to one another – even through the masks…”

Erdmann said an online service would continue in the following week (June 21), with live music.

“Thanks for staying with us during all of this,” she said. “All positive – all the time.”

Trinity Baptist – Gillespie

Trinity Baptist officially welcomed members back June 21. A video of the service from that day also was posted to Facebook.

The church also giving through an online virtual offering plate.

“We’re going to walk consciously through this time, knowing that, as you see there’s a resurgence in some states,” said Pastor Dane Solari as he welcomed members to the June 21 service.

No handouts were given to attendees. They were encouraged to go to Facebook to follow along with Solari’s message.

Zion Farmersville, Trinity Girard

While a service online through YouTube or Facebook is an option, Strong felt many of his members were wanting to get back to services at a church building.

“Our people are going to go to church,” said the Rev. Michael Strong of Zion Evangelican Lutheran Church in Farmersville. He has also served as a vacancy pastor in Trinity Girard for the past year. “They’re not going to be satisfied with couch church. If it’s Sunday, they’re going to try their best to be there.”

Zion Carlinville

Zion Lutheran in Carlinville had 42 attend March 15, the last service prior to the announced shutdown.

During the shelter in place order for COVID-19, Sunday services were broadcast via livestream on Facebook. This practice will continue as a way to give more members an opportunity to listen to the service each week.

Sunday, June 21, was the congregation’s first Sunday welcoming parishioners back. Attendance was 41, with 27 of those attendees participating in communion.

Sermon texts have been emailed to members. Pastor Timothy Wilcoxen will continue doing livestream services for now. He detailed the importance of church members gathering together.

“Why is it important for people to gather together in person, physically, in the flesh?” Wilcoxen explained. “God works through physical means. He took on human flesh and blood in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ so that he could save us from our sin and its consequences, eternal death and slavery to the devil. This rescue climaxed with his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead three days later.  Now he uses physical means to give us the forgiveness, life, and salvation he won on the cross. In the water and God’s Word that combine to make up baptism, he gives us the gift of saving faith in him. In the Word, he preaches his forgiveness into our ear holes. In the Lord’s Supper, he gives us his own body and blood, hidden under the bread and wine, in an intimate act of love and forgiveness.”

Wilcoxen said the Facebook livestream option for Sunday service has been a blessing, but it’s not a substitute for a real gathering.

“Technology has been a blessing during this time,” Wilcoxen said. “It’s enabled us to spread God’s Word in multiple ways. However, such virtual means are really no substitute for being together in the flesh. In the Lord’s Supper, our Savior is with us in the same flesh and blood by which he won salvation for us on the cross. It’s a priceless gift to be able to gather with fellow believers in the flesh to this gift.”

Chesterfield Bible Church

Jarod Walston, pastor at Chesterfield Bible Church, provided an update on how church has gone the past couple weeks.

“Things have gone well for our first two Sundays back for in-person worship services,” he said. “It’s not quite the same as before, but we’re committed to meeting together as part of the Body of Christ, even if it looks and feels a bit different. We would definitely rather be together than apart.

“People seem to have agreed to the temporary adjustments to our worship services, but we all look forward to the social distancing guidelines relaxing for the state of Illinois. We don’t follow the guidelines perfectly, but who in our state or country does? It’s not an excuse, it’s just a fact of human observation.”

“We’re a small church, so when a couple of families are missing, we can’t help but notice. We long to have everyone return to our church family gatherings on Sunday mornings, and we’re hopeful of that.”

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