Pastors see changes due to pandemic

The Rev. Clifford Jones leads "An Evening of Prayer" at Greater Peace Missionary Baptist Church in this file photo. (Opelika-Auburn News/Todd Van Emst)

When Gov. Kay Ivey lifted restrictions on non-work gatherings of more than 10 people, churches across the state received the green light for in-person services, if they adhere to the social distancing requirement.

Local leaders are taking a steady approach, the health of their congregations remaining their top priority.

Dr. Rusty Sowell, senior pastor at Providence Baptist Church, said the ministry team met and went over the guidelines from the state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with other information, and are studying it “at length.”

“Obviously the concern is for the safety and welfare of our membership, which we know better than anybody the health challenges that some have,” Sowell said.

Providence Baptist Church has a tentative plan to start in-person services June 7.

The church is currently live streaming its services.

When on-site worship begins, Sowell said, those services — at 8, 9:30 and 11 a.m. — will be at the West Campus.

“We had a team over there (the West Campus) this morning pulling out chairs, positioning with regards to the parameters that have been given, 6 foot, 10 foot, etc., and that’s what we’re moving toward,” Sowell said in an earlier interview. “We are going to encourage people to have a mask, to bring their own mask, and then we’ll have some available on-site too.

“Obviously, we’ll be encouraging (people) that if they feel sick not to come, continue the virtual connection …”

St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Parish in Auburn has resumed public Masses.

“But based upon the requirements of the Archdiocese of Mobile, as well as the Alabama Department of (Public) Health concerning churches, we are going to maintain basically 50 percent occupancy, or sometimes that might even be less, based on using every other pew. So we won’t be using half of the pews,” said Father Michael Farmer of St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Parish, adding individuals and families must keep a 6 feet distance from others.

People will also be spaced 6 feet apart in the Communion line.

Farmer said if someone feels uncomfortable attending Mass, “you do not have to come, and, obviously, if you are sick or you have underlying health conditions, you shouldn’t come.”


The Rev. Vicki Cater is pastor of Red Ridge United Methodist Church in Dadeville.

The church is part of the North Alabama Conference of The United Methodist Church and the guidelines of its bishop, the Rev. Dr. Debra Wallace-Padgett, are to extend no in-person worship services through at least the first Sunday in June.

“There’s a good possibly it could go beyond that,” Cater said in an earlier interview. Red Ridge United Methodist’s Sunday services are currently on Facebook Live. “… She (Wallace-Padgett) is in constant contact with the health department, the CDC, the governor’s office as well. They’ve all been a part of conversations. Right now, that is her recommendation.”

Even though the church isn’t having on-site meetings, Cater said the church continues to stay “very well connected.”

“One of the things that we did was we divided the congregation up into groups. And we have care teams that are responsible for touching base with all of the people in their group, and they do that on a weekly basis. So that way if there’s anything that comes up, they can let me know, and I can follow up further,” she said. “It has just really worked really well. I’ve been really pleased with it. The care teams are excited about staying connected, and the folks are just loving it.”

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