Local church leaders divided on returning to in-person services

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AUGUSTA, G.A. (WJBF) – With covid cases still on the rise in Augusta, some local churches are faced with the decision of whether or not to return to in-person services.

“We said this from the beginning, We’ll be one of the first churches to close down and one of the last to open back up,” said Reverend Charles E. Goodman Jr.

Rev.Goodman is the pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church. Pastor Goodman says his congregation is pushing back their return to in-person services.

Well, we saw the numbers, and I think there was a couple factors, we didn’t want to continue to overwhelm our medical community, and we are community partners. So even though we feel like we can do things safely, we just didn’t want to take that chance, said Pastor Goodman.

He says with cases climbing, the church had to be a role model to the community.

“To show everyone hey, do you understand what’s going on is serious. So, we just wanted to give it some time to get through this surge, let’s see what’s happening in our community and we’ll be able to make that adjustment going back to in person,” he said.

Sunday was the first time the congregation met in person since the pandemic hit the city. Masked up they came together for their 136th church anniversary at the Evans Towne Center Park. Pastor Goodman says they chose that location so they could follow social distancing guidelines. Tabernacle Baptist Church is one of the largest churches in Augusta, which is why church leaders decided to delay their return.

“We just understood with our size and the different things and logistics of our church it just would’ve been hard. We said this from the beginning, we’ll be one of the first churches to close down and one of the last to open back up,” he said.

Across town at Martinez Church of Christ, a smaller congregation has been holding in-person services for a few months now.

“So we were actually outside for a whole year,” said Evangelist Philip Williams.

Rev. Williams is the evangelist at the Martinez Church of Christ. He says when Covid first broke out they were conducting their services online.

“We eventually worked it out where we could meet outdoors. We had the chairs out there and then started bringing the mics out there,” said Rev. Williams.

When making the transition back to in-person services, Evangelist Williams says it was harder for their congregation to social distance because of the size of the sanctuary.

“Now we’ve got things set up so that people can sit in some of the different classrooms here and we’ve got T.V. Sets set up so they can watch from a distance if they want to. It depends on what people are comfortable with,” he said.

Rev. Williams says that most of the congregation is vaccinated and that goes the same over at Tabernacle Baptist Church. Both pastors do agree that in-person fellowship is important, but the safety of their congregations is their highest priority.

“I think we’re going to have to learn to do both and do both effectively and with excellence. So whether it’s to have globally or to have in person, you know our aim is to do both to the best of our ability and to glorify God,” said Rev. Goodman

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