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Local churches split on holding Sunday service after Thanksgiving

For many, Thanksgiving is a time for gatherings of family and friends to enjoy each other’s company and give thanks for the blessing they have received during the year.

But with the specter of the COVID-19 pandemic hovering over the holiday, many families have been forced to change their traditional gatherings to avoid exposure to the virus, and some area churches are also looking at precautions to avoid its spread.

Officials with First Baptist Church Vicksburg announced that out of concern for COVID-19, Sunday services for the first two Sundays after Thanksgiving will be live-streamed through the church’s website and on its Facebook page only. Also, adult Sunday school classes will meet through Zoom.

“We’re playing it safe,” First Baptist pastor Dr. Matt Buckles said. “Just as families do, they travel and get together and we felt that for the last two Sundays after Thanksgiving we would be cautious.

“It’s just a precaution,” he added. “It’s not what I want to do but it’s the best thing to do. The church’s congregation has done well handling precautions and the number of people returning to the church for in-person service was increasing.”

The Rev. Sam Godfrey, rector of Christ Episcopal Church, said Sunday services will also be live-streamed Sunday. After that, he said, “We are going to play it by ear. If the (COVID-19) numbers go up, that (live streaming) would certainly be a possibility.”

Godfrey said the church has been holding in-person services.

“We have a large amount of space,” he said. “So far we have been able to gather safely.” And while he does not anticipate going back to live streaming services only “we’ll look at the numbers and see.”

Other churches plan to continue in-person services. 

According to information from the Catholic Diocese of Jackson, parishes will follow the procedures set earlier by the diocese for Mass and the sacraments.

Parishioners must wear masks during Mass and other events and practice social distancing.

Parishes should set a maximum capacity for churches, and pews must be sanitized after each Mass.

The Rev. Andy Andrews, the rector of Church of the Holy Trinity, said the church will hold an in-person service Sunday with seating limited to 75 people. Masks will be worn during the service and social distancing will be practiced.

“Sunday, we’re going to have the Vicksburg Orchestral Society because we know everyone is going to need an additional boost,” he said.

Andrews said plans are subject to change pending decisions from the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi.

 Rev. Kevin Bradley, pastor of Crawford Street United Methodist Church said the church will continue a combination of in-person worship and live streaming.

“That’s our plan going forward post-Thanksgiving and into Advent,” he said, pointing out that the schedule is subject to change. “We’re still monitoring what’s going on with the COVID numbers but for the most part we’re continuing with our regular schedule.”

The Rev. R.D. Bernard, pastor of King Solomon Baptist Church, said he will hold in-person services Sunday and held a Thanksgiving Day service.

“We will be taking every precaution,” he said. “We will be handing out masks and hand sanitizers; gloves will be optional. We will have social distancing and temperatures will be taken. We have multiple services so we can spread people out.”

Bernard said the services have been shortened to about one hour.

“I think the people are just happy to be able to worship. The doors are not closed,” he said. “The fact that we are open and holding in-person services means a lot to them.”

Richard Smith, senior warden for St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Bovina, said there are no plans to change services for the Thanksgiving holiday.

“We are a small church and we’ve been averaging about 25 people between services and our services are also online, so we have parishioners who are watching online,” he said.

The Rev. Tim Brown, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, said Sunday service will be in-person, but members of the congregation will be required to wear masks and social distance.

“As for any changes, we’re going to be flexible and take into account recommendations,” he said

The Rev. Austin Hoyle, pastor of Hawkins United Methodist Church, said the church will have its 8:45 a.m. drive-in worship in the church’s front parking lot, 9:30 a.m. Sunday School and a 10:30 a.m. sanctuary worship in-person and online.

Hoyle said the church is a part of the Mississippi Annual Conference.

“Whatever our bishop says in Jackson is what Hawkins is going to do,” he said. “If he asks to halt in-person worship for a couple of weeks or for however long, we’ll do that, but we’re probably not going to make any moves like that outside of official guidance from the bishop and he hasn’t said anything on those lines quite yet.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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