NORTH ATLANTA — Effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have disrupted lives for millions, and the impact has reverberated into the faith-based community.
Since the statewide shelter-in-place order went into effect in March, hundreds of local businesses and organizations have closed their doors to the public. Now, some faith institutions have begun pondering how to best reopen with safeguards in place to protect their congregations.
Many faith institutions have continued to operate and engage with members online by streaming worship services. Some have even created virtual meetings, such as through Zoom, to allow small groups and classes to continue.
Despite the distance, the methods have been effective at St. James United Methodist Church in Alpharetta, according to Director of Operations Larry Salter.
“Our services are extremely well attended as we are fortunate enough to have a media coordinator with television background, and therefore the online experience is very engaging,” Salter said. “We also have well attended Zoom Bible Studies for all ages and demographics as well as Sunday School. We are having virtual concerts, forums and graduation celebrations.”
St. James is following the lead of the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church in regard to reopening. Currently, there are no plans to reopen before June 22, and the church’s reopening planning team is looking at the possibility of a soft reopening after that date.
Salter said any reopening will include precautions as outlined by the CDC, including social distancing, limiting capacity, disinfecting between services, health and temperature screening, and hosting only family worship initially.
Congregation Dor Tamid in Johns Creek is taking similar steps and precautions.
Executive Director Stacey Jahanfar said the congregation is working with a panel of members from the CDC, Emory Johns Creek Hospital and several doctors on a plant to resume services.
“We meet with them regularly, so we can make decisions in a sound and safe way,” she said. “We are not in a hurry to open with a possibility of an oversight or rush to set us back, but to open when we know all the facts and the safest for our members.”
Because some members are over 60 years old, Jahanfar said Congregation Dor Tamid wants to take extra precautions to guard their safety and will likely use a phased approach to reopening.
In the meantime, Congregation Dor Tamid will continue to offer virtual programs most days of the week, including Friday night and Saturday morning services. Other programs include cooking classes and trivia nights.
North Point Community Church in Alpharetta has likewise turned to the internet to provide worship services as well as weekly content for students broken up by age group. Tentatively, the church is looking at relaunching Sunday morning programs starting Aug. 9, said spokeswoman Chloe Kliment.
North Point Community Church is currently surveying members for their thoughts on how to safely resume services.
Alpharetta Presbyterian Church has also been filming worship services and using video conferencing for its groups and classes. It employes e-newsletters and social media to keep in contact with members.
“We continue to reimagine what it means to do ministry under these extraordinary circumstances,” said Director of Communications Katie VanBrackle. “As a family of faith, we are open and serving now, just in new ways. Church leaders and our public health task force are currently developing a comprehensive plan for how to safely welcome the public back into our buildings.”
In Roswell, Ebenezer United Methodist Church held its first drive-in service on May 24 with the help of World Harvest Church.