MACON, Ga. — Houses of worship across Central Georgia sat empty Sunday. As coronavirus concerns continue to rise, some congregations altered their services while others closed their doors completely.
"We have to remain vigilant, especially for our most vulnerable populations," said Georgia Governor Brian Kemp in a press conference. "We have called on faith-based organizations to consider cancellation of services to mitigate the risk of transmission."
So, Pastor Jimmy Asbell did just that.
"I never thought I'd send out a video to the church that said 'don't come to church,' said Asbell, Vineville United Methodist Church's senior pastor.
He decided it was best to ask the congregation to stay home and watch the service on their phones and TVs.
"The things the CDC is asking us to do as far as social distancing with children, and even in worship, to be six feet apart... we weren't sure that we could do that," he said.
Instead, he preached, a few technicians ran the live stream, and two musicians played music for an empty room.
In downtown Macon, the doors of Mulberry Street United Methodist Church were open, but only to those that the CDC says are not at risk. For everyone else, they could worship on their phones.
"I never thought I would ever be happy to see a small congregation, and to be happy that some of the older people didn’t come," said Rev. Creede Hinshaw.
He said they wanted to still have a worship service, but to do it safely. People were spread out in the pews, the offering plate was not passed, and people were urged to avoid shaking hands or hugging.
"We felt like we could do this responsibly and hopefully not put anybody at risk," Hinshaw said.
Despite being open this Sunday, for at least the next two weeks they will close their doors to everyone.
"I never thought I would ever say to people, 'don't come to church,'" said Hinshaw.
Asbell said until the end of the month, Vineville United Methodist will continue to do a live stream with music, sermons and prayer, but the sanctuary will remain empty.
"The first rule of Methodism is 'do no harm,'" said Asbell. "We just figured out of love for our most vulnerable, we needed to make sure we did no harm."
Hinshaw said he believes when the Mulberry Methodist doors finally reopen, the congregation will be ready.
"We'll come back with hearts filled with praise and gratitude," he said.
Both men said church leaders will re-evaluate the situation at the end of the month.
Other places of worship across Central Georgia are also heeding Kemp's advice and closing their doors until the coronavirus threat has passed. Most have been posting their plans on Facebook or on their front doors.
MORE CORONAVIRUS COVERAGE
FACTS NOT FEAR | At 13WMAZ, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the coronavirus. To see our full coverage, visit our site section here: www.13wmaz.com/Coronavirus.