HANNIBAL | Area churches of all sizes have been responding to the coronavirus outbreak, making changes based on keeping everyone safe while continuing to offer opportunities for worship.
Church leaders have been staying abreast of the latest recommendations from sources like the Center for Disease Control, area health departments, and government leaders at the national, state and county levels. Officials from local houses of worship reacted to the ongoing health situation with changes ranging from practicing social distancing and enhanced cleaning procedures to temporarily canceling worship services and activities.Area churches have been exercising changes on a day-to-day basis in response to the risk of exposure to the coronavirus. Recent guidelines to limit gatherings to no more than 10 people and avoid personal contact like handshakes have temporarily changed traditional gatherings, but technology will allow people to come together for worship through an internet or mobile connection.
At Calvary Baptist Church, Executive Pastor Ron Haye said weekly ministries have been postponed for five weeks, except for day care. Worship services will be live streamed through their Facebook page on Sunday, March 22 and Sunday, March 29. He said the decision was made to keep church members and community members safe while following the president's and governor's requests. The congregation usually totals between 375 and 400 people on Sundays.
Live streaming was just a natural choice,” Haye said, pointing out that the next two Sunday services would be live streamed, and church officials will reevaluate how much longer the change is needed based on the health situation and what government leaders request.
“We're just trying to be sensitive to the nature of what's taking place around us,” Haye said. “If we can still gather and worship — just worship remotely — then we still want to be able to do that, with the hope that this won't take very long and we'll be able to gather again in the church and worship as a whole.”
The Facebook page for Calvary Baptist Church can be found by searching for @cbchannibal.
Pastor Jack Emmite, who leads Antioch Baptist Church, said the Sunday, March 22, Wednesday, March 25, Sunday, March 29 and Wednesday, April 1 services will be canceled. He plans to post videos on the church's Facebook page of his message for the upcoming Sunday worship services. Typically, about 80 people come to worship on Sunday mornings.
“I've been listening to the different reports from the president and others, and the hospital, and watching what the schools and others are doing,” Emmite said. “We felt like it was the responsible thing to do if we're going to try to help stop this thing, if it's at all possible.”
Emmite stressed the importance of working together to try to stop the virus' spread, while ministering to people through social media and phone calls. The Facebook page for Antioch Baptist Church can be found by searching for @AntiochHannibal.
At First Christian Church, Pastor Steve Barker said church members will be asked to spread out throughout the sanctuary to exercise social distancing, and weekly communion will be observed with each person receiving a piece of bread from a gloved hand and cups will be placed on a table, with a container nearby to drop the cups into. Barker said there is an active membership of more than 350 people at the church and everyone is staying positive through their faith in God.
Barker said some casual services have been canceled, but day care remains open, and children receive a temperature check each morning, so parents know how their child is doing right away. He stressed that people need to be well for 48 hours before returning to church.
“We just keep praying for everybody who is ill and pray for all of those who have contracted the coronavirus and hope that it comes to an end sooner than later, and that people heed the government's warning,” Barker said.
Holy Family Catholic Church Parish Secretary Patty Miller said weekday masses and weekend masses on Sunday, March 22 and Sunday, March 29 have been canceled, following the recommendation of Bishop Shawn McKnight. Father Mike Quinn will lead a live stream of the mass at 10 a.m. Sunday. Holy Family has 764 registered families, and Miller said a total of about 600 people attend the three weekend masses. The Holy Family Catholic Church Facebook page can be found by searching for @myholyfamilychurch.
Pastor Eric Carlson who leads St. John's Lutheran Church, said Lent midweek services and Sunday morning services will not be held for the next 15 days in accordance with the government's latest recommendations. The time frame could expand based on future developments, and Carlson reached out to fellow churches to let them know that St. John's Lutheran Church would not be participating in the Journey of the Cross on Good Friday. St. John's Lutheran School is closed, but pre-K is open, with several safety precautions in place for the children.
On Wednesday, Carlson delivered his first of several planned live messages on the church's Facebook page Wednesday, sharing Bible verses about honoring authority from the books of Romans, Matthew, Titus and Peter and verses about hope from I Timothy and Isaiah.
“This is a wonderful time to witness by our actions to our neighbors that our help is in the Lord, who made heaven and earth,” Carlson said. “And we can go ahead and we can make plans and do the very best we can with what God has put before us — but that we do it with hope, because we know that God is with us, so who could possibly be against us?”
The Facebook page for St. John's Lutheran Church can be found by searching @stjohnslutheranchurchhannibal.