The Murfreesboro Post polled a handful of area churches both large and small for their plans to reopen.
World Outreach has dipped its toes into the water with outdoor services, while others continue to study the safest ways to reopen.
The Murfreesboro church began holding outdoor services the week of May 4 to mark the National Day of Prayer on Thursday, May 7. It held three Day of Prayer services that week, spokeswoman Lucy Phillips said.
And as of last Wednesday, the church began holding outdoor services three days a week – Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, weather permitting. World Outreach normally holds five indoor services on those three days, with an average total attendance of 7,000 to 8,000, Phillips said.
“We’re blessed to have a lot of space” outside, she said.
Church leaders encourage social distancing and set up chairs spaced apart. They provide hand sanitizer. They also encourage people to bring lawn chairs. Services include worship and a message by the Rev. Allen Jackson, but are condensed from one-and-a-half hours to one hour to help parents whose young children may grow restless.
Jackson said the church is working on plans to safely reopen the building, which was closed for nine weeks as of last week.
World Outreach, like many churches, has livestreamed worship and the pastor’s message, something it did even before the pandemic. Its Sunday morning service also airs on local television. The outdoor services are being livestreamed.
In case of bad weather, the music will be moved inside and the service will be livestreamed, Phillips said.
“Gathering is the right thing,” Phillips said. “People want to do it as safely as possible.”
The Walnut Grove MBC
The Walnut Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Murfreesboro will continue to livestream on Facebook for now, said its pastor of more than 40 years, Richard W. Sibert.
“We’re just waiting for word on when it’s really safe to embark on resuming fellowshipping together,” Sibert said. “We don’t want to take a chance of having someone exposed to that virus.”
The church has experienced only one hiccup, on May 10, when the video feed dropped off. But it quickly re-established service.
Sibert said he is finding the blessing in the situation in being forced to online services.
“It’s ironic,” he said. “It seems that it is reaching many people, people we never thought would even take an interest in it, even out of state. Sometimes there are quite a few viewers. We’re getting the word outside the walls. The church is going into the world.
“God can make good come out of any situation,” Sibert said. “God is taking church to a different level. That’s what a lot of ministers were discussing last week on our public prayer conference call – how God is using this situation to advance his ministry worldwide.
“People ask me when is church going to start again,” he said. “Huh? That was from people who have not even attended our church. I think God is reaching a lot of people since this pandemic has occurred.”
His Holy Hill
The Murfreesboro church will continue livestreaming through May, the Rev. Mo Obayomi said.
“We are glad to see some ray of hope as we approach the end of this tunnel,” he said. “As a church, we are prioritizing the health of our members above immediate gatherings, though it’s our utmost desire to see and hold each other again. Our leadership team is working assiduously to see how the coming weeks and month would look like.
“One thing I can say clearly is that our comeback plan would also be in phases and would allow us all to learn the process with minimal health risk,” Obayomi said. “We are also reviewing the process of optimizing our facility.”
First United Methodist Church is still studying ways to reopen, pastor Drew Shelley said. It has consulted with Bishop Bill McAlilly and other churches in its conference and studied guidelines from the CDC, Vanderbilt University Medical Center and other experts.
The church has been livestreaming during the pandemic. The average Sunday attendance is 850 to 1,000, Shelley said, and the membership total is 3,700.
“As with many churches, the hunger to be together grows daily,” Shelley said in a statement. “We at FUMC Murfreesboro are working diligently to balance the mitigation of risk of spreading this virus with that hunger to worship God together.
“For our congregation, the real question is how do we love people in the way of Jesus while we walk through this pandemic? That question resolves a lot of issues. Facemasks are an expression of that love – if wearing a mask will help prevent my spreading this disease to another person, I’m wearing a mask. If taking temperatures at the door minimizes the spread of this disease, we’ll take temperatures. If social distancing reduces risk, we’ll limit the number of folks in the sanctuary and create some pre-registration system for the next few months in order to facilitate that social distancing.”
FUMC is studying a possible three-phased approach to reopening and may begin Phase One on Sunday, June 7, Shelley said. Phase Two could come in mid-July, and Phase Three, “hopefully,” by the time school begins, he said.
There has been a great deal of fellowshipping online during the shutdown, and he said he hopes it continues once the sanctuary reopens. FUMC set up a COVID-19 relief fund. For information, call the church at (615) 893-1322 and leave a message.