By Lasca Randels
WARSAW — Following Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb’s announcement of a five-step plan to reopening the state, churches are faced with a decision on how — and when — to reopen.
Essential travel restrictions have been lifted and a phased-in approach is being used as we attempt to return to “normal.”
According to the governor’s plan, in-person, indoor religious worship services may resume Friday, May 8, and will not be restricted to the 25-person limit, though outdoor and virtual services are encouraged.
Many churches appear to be taking a cautious approach.
Plans for several area churches are outlined below:
New Life Christian Church and World Outreach
744 South CR 325E, Warsaw
According to information on their website, New Life Christian Church will be opening doors for in-house services on Sunday, May 10.
There will be one service at 10 a.m. If you prefer to join from home online, there is an online ministry for the entire family through the church’s website, Facebook, Instagram and Youtube.
Celebrate Recovery will return to normal services on May 12. They will continue meeting online on Tuesday evenings.
Warsaw Community Church
1855 S. County Farm Road, Warsaw
Warsaw Community Church is planning on June 14 as their “Back in the Building” plan.
“This gives us time to evaluate the ‘Back on Track Indiana’ recommendations and their minimum health protocols for places of worship, allowing us to prepare our staff and building for people gathering in-person again, while watching how the ‘stages’ progress in the Indiana timeline, along with the overall health of our staff, congregation and community,” said Greg Demopoulos, communications director at WCC.
In the meantime, Demopoulos said, the church plans to continue offering worship services and certain ministry activities online. Sunday services will continue online at 9 a.m. and 10:45 a.m.
“We’ll also keep engaging and volunteering in the community and providing our care assistance on an as-needed or appointment basis per current guidelines,” Demopoulos said. “Once our plan is finalized, and assuming we can get the supplies we need for cleanliness standards, and the health of our congregation and community remain safe, we will continue to expand our in-person ministry activities according to the recommendations of the state and CDC guidelines.”
Once in-person gatherings resume, the church will continue to offer worship services and key ministry activities online.
North Webster United Methodist
7822 E. Epworth Forest Road, North Webster
North Webster United Methodist is following the advice of church leaders and will not return to indoor services until June 17.
The church normally hosts a variety of services on Sunday, but that’s been reduced to one online service during the pandemic.
The church broadcasts the service on its Facebook Page, it’s youtube page and its website
Office Manager Kim Zink said they’ve seen an increase in online vewership and will permanently expand some of their online services after the pandemic ends.
Clunette United Methodist Church
4227 West CR 600N, Leesburg
According to Clunette UMC Pastor Mike Beezley, the church will not be holding in-person worship services until at least June 14.
“Even then, we will be observing conservative social distancing guidelines and measures to try to keep our congregations safe,” Beezley said. “In addition, we will continue to hold our online worship services even after we come back to in-person worship.”
Atwood Aldersgate United Methodist Church
105 E. Hovey St., Atwood
Mike Beezley, pastor at Atwood Aldersgate UMC, said worship services will not be held in the church until June 14.
“As it stands now, at both Clunette and Atwood Aldersgate United Methodist Churches, our current plan is to hold in-person worship services no sooner than June 14,” Beezley said. “We have been advised of these measures by Bishop Julius Trimble of the Indiana Conference of United Methodist Churches.”
Harvest Community Church
512 S. 7th St., Pierceton
Harvest Community Church has been holding “drive-in” church services in the parking lot for the past four weeks, complete with a sound system and instruments set up outside.
“We have averaged 40 – 45 cars, with multiple people in them each week,” said Harvest Community Church Pastor Glenn Hall. “We have also been streaming live on Facebook during the services, so many would also watch on Facebook while being in their cars. For a small community church we have been so pleased with the number of views and responses on Facebook. It has been amazing.”
Hall said they will continue with an adjusted schedule for the next month. This includes holding worship service at 10 a.m. instead of 10:30 a.m., no Wednesday evening mid-week services and no Sunday School.
On Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 10, services will be moved back inside the sanctuary at 10 a.m.
“We will continue to stream live on Facebook and we will be propping open the emergency exit doors of the Sanctuary for anyone who would like to ‘drive-in’ and be there for services from their car.
“We plan to set up the sound system and play the Facebook livestream through the sound system to the parking lot,” Hall said.
Hall said they are recommending that parishioners over the age of 65 stay home or participate in drive-in parking lot services for one more week; however, Hall said, they will not turn anyone away who comes in the door.
“We will trust people to social distance and to use masks and hand sanitizer (provided by the church) at their discretion,” Hall said. “We plan to be fully open to anyone, any age, by Sunday, May 17. We are hoping to return to our regular schedule of all services by June 14. Of course, we will monitor the status of the Governor’s plan and will respect the timelines as they apply to our size church.”
– Dan Spalding contributed to this report.