Churches make adjustments to services due to coronavirus threat
Pastors of several Vicksburg churches say they will continue holding services but will take precautions following information about Mississippi’s first confirmed coronavirus, or COVID-19, case.
The announcement of the case comes as churches begin the season of Lent in preparation for Easter, which includes special services, especially going into Holy Week, the days before Easter.
The Rev. Kevin Bradley, pastor at Crawford Street United Methodist Church, said the church will have services, adding, “Of course I am staying as informed as I can. I don’t think they (the United Methodist Church Conference) have done anything officially as a conference, yet. I know that they are monitoring everything closely, but I have not seen anything at least in the last 24 hours.”
If there are any recommendations from the UMC Church Conference, Bradley said, “We will certainly adhere to those.”
The Rev. Matt Buckles, senior pastor at First Baptist Church, said beginning Sunday the church will no longer pass the offering plate because of the many hands touching it.
“We will have offering containers at certain spots in our worship center,” he said. The church’s meet and greet time and welcome time is being eliminated, and more hand sanitizer will be available.
“We will just ask people to not shake hands or hug — just the standard wise things that are being promoted, and if people consider themselves vulnerable just stay at home and worship via TV until all this passes,” Buckles said. “All this is health care wisdom.”
Buckles said each church in the Southern Baptist Convention is autonomous or self- governing churches, so they do things within their own congregation.
“We have always tried to keep our facilities clean and have always had hand sanitizers,” he said.
He said the church will wait and see what happens with the virus before determining if its preschool will still hold classes next week.
“We have some missions trips this summer and we are going to wait a little while before making a call on those,” he said. “That’s what we have put in place, and we have asked our congregation to pray for the Lord to frustrate this (coronavirus) to push back on it. It’s a part of our fallen world. It’s one of many things we have had to deal with along the way and our Lord is going to take care of us, but he also leads and guides us to be wise and right.
“Our medical personnel in our church have been very encouraging and encouraging us to take wise action,” Buckles said.
Carolyn Johnston, church secretary at Triumph Church, said, “We are having church on Sunday. Tomorrow (Friday) we are having a spring cleaning where we are going to disinfect the whole church.”
The Catholic Diocese of Jackson and the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi have each released recommendations to pastors and rectors to deal with the coronavirus threat.
The bishops for both dioceses have told their priests to stay home and not celebrate Mass if they feel sick or show flu-like symptoms or potential symptoms of the coronavirus.
Catholic priests are urged to find a substitute if possible to say Mass.
A letter from Bishop Joseph Kopacz to Catholic Churches in the Diocese of Jackson issued a dispensation from mass to the elderly “and anyone with a serious underlying medical condition for whom contracting the Coronavirus may be a life-threatening situation.”
Other precautions outlined by Kopacz include not sharing wine with the congregation and having low-gluten hosts available for those who have an allergy and normally receive only the wine.
Priests are asked to encourage parishioners to receive the consecrated host in the hand if physically possible, but not refuse someone communion if they wish to have the host placed on the tongue.
Before the prayer before the Eucharist, priests should encourage those who are feeling ill or those who may have come in contact with someone with flu-like symptoms to refrain entirely from receiving Holy Communion.
“Instead, as is the practice of the Church, one can make an Act of Spiritual Communion at the time others are receiving,” Kopadz wrote.
The sign of peace, which is usually performed with a handshake or an embrace, should be done without physical contact or the custom should be eliminated. Also, parishioners should not hold hands during the Our Father.
The Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi Thursday posted a list of suggested precautions from the Right Rev. Brian Seage, Episcopal Bishop of Mississippi, on the diocese’s website.
“The clergy have been advised to offer safe practices around the peace and communion,” Seage wrote. “In times of crisis, people seek connection, information and agency. Instruction about our worship practices is a powerful opportunity for community and communication.
“Offering communion in one kind (the host) is recommended. Wine should always be consecrated and available, and your priest will give specific instructions about receiving based on your custom and practice.”
Seage also recommended alternatives from hugging or shaking hands as a gesture of the peace, and asks that church members “be respectful of those who do not want to communicate in this way.”
Staff writer John Surratt contributed to this report.