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Local churches find new ways to spread the Word

With strict guidelines for social distancing and staying at home, this Easter is certainly to be different from any other.

Since the spreading of the COVID-19 virus one of the South’s deepest traditions — gathering together for Sunday services — has taken quite the turn. While the sanctuaries across Demopolis may be silent, the Word continues to be shared.

For many churches, social distancing has led to a wider use of technology, especially social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube.

For some local churches, the last time the congregation gathered together was Sunday, March 15. Since then, communicating and sharing have been a work in progress.

“We met on March 15 and it was decided we would not shake hands. The following Sunday was the first we did not meet in person and we’ve been live streaming ever since,” said Carl Williams of First Baptist Church Demopolis.

FBC had already been accustomed to a wider audience outside of its walls through local cable access. But, social distancing has led to live streaming Sunday services on You Tube as well.

“There’s been a lot of adapting. We are trying to interact with one another through social media and finding different ways to feel connected to the church and one another,” Williams said.

Terry Gosa, pastor of Eastern Star Baptist Church, said his church’s early attempt to hold services while maintaining social distancing standards were not practical for the long term, thus thrusting his church onto the internet.

“Initially, we had a skeleton crew for our congregation, only having a certain number of people attend and I brought the message from the pulpit. But, as things progressed we realized we could not put our members at risk. Besides, we didn’t want to have to pick out the 10 members who could come to church,” Gosa said.

Following that first “skeleton crew” service, Eastern Star took to live streaming services on Facebook. While that solved the question of how to share a service, Gosa said it doesn’t fully fill the need, or the responsibility, of the church.

“Facebook Live has been great … we’ve gotten a good response. Not only are our members watching, but there are others who come across it,” Gosa said. “But, a lot of our members are older and they don’t have access to the internet.”

He said his church is encouraging members to stay in contact with one another any way they can and to check up on the elderly. “We are thinking outside of the box to come up with ways to stay in touch with our members,” he said.

Even Sunday School is moving online at FBC where video conferencing has allowed members to stay connected.

Despite how technology has helped churches stay connected, the absence of a full congregation will be missed come Easter morning.

“All of these Sundays have been hard,” Williams said. “But, this Sunday in particular will have a somber tone to it. What we all have to remember is that even if we are not (at church) the message carries on: that Christ has risen. For believers that carries on in our hearts no matter where we are.”

In addition to live streaming this Easter Sunday, Gosa said his church would also take to the airwaves. The River 106.5 radio is providing 15-minute airtime blocks for churches to share their message. “At this critical time, we are all doing the best we can to help people get through this. We have to stay connected the best we can until this is over. We have to be sensitive, but sensible,” he said.

It has been a difficult time for churches as they seek new ways to spread their messages and communicate with their congregations. Williams said he hopes the community will keep local churches in their prayers.

“I encourage people to pray for their churches, pastors, and the staffs. There are a lot of difficult decisions being made. No one wanted to cancel services, but we do what needs to be done. When the time comes when we can be together again, let’s not take that for granted,” Williams said.

Easter services may not be the same this year, but Pastor Gosa said it is important to remember that some things do not change. “The Lord is just as real today as He was yesterday and He will continue to be the same when the coronavirus is gone.”