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Faith & Family: Local churches adapt during virus crisis

NATCHEZ — Local churches are entering the third week of social distancing to help minimize the spread of COVID-19 and many of the churches are finding new ways to meet the needs of their congregations.

The Rev. Joan Gandy, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Natchez, said her church is keeping busy in new ways during the health crisis.

“It’s busy in a different way, you might say, because we have to reach out in different ways,” Gandy said. “We’re limiting our face-to-face meetings — canceling all of those face-to-face meetings, so we don’t have committees meeting. Children aren’t meeting. Wednesday night is not meeting. We don’t have our Bible study on Tuesday morning.”

To make up for not having physical meetings, Gandy said the church is streaming services and meetings utilizing the church’s website and Facebook and other online services.

“Church services on Sunday morning, we are live streaming and that has gone well,” Gandy said. “We have done that for a couple of weeks, and it is going very well.”

When live streaming services, Gandy said only the bare minimum of people needed are in the sanctuary.

“Of course, the doors are open, but we are trying to comply with all of the regulations around us,” Gandy said referring to a citywide “Stay-at-Home” order that is in effect. “We have to comply also as others do. We have to gather as a people electronically and it is not easy. The touching is so much a part of who we are — holding hands, hugging, being close in conversation, being snug in the pews together and standing shoulder to shoulder when we sing and pray.”

Otherwise, Gandy said her church members are coping through the crisis as best as possible and she is able to counsel as need over the telephone.

Likewise, the Rev. Doug Broome, pastor of First Baptist Church of Natchez, said his church is going into its third week of social distancing and holding video streaming services not only Sunday services and Wednesday services and Bible studies but also a daily devotional.

“Monday through Friday, we offer online at noon what’s called a ‘Ministry Minute,’ which is a one-minute devotional by staff members,” Broome said of social media video posts. “We are doing that daily at noon. A different staff member does a minute-long devotion.”

Links to those can be found on the church’s website and on the church’s social media pages.

Sunday worship services, Broome said, are pre-recorded in the sanctuary with a praise band and praise team.

“I go in at a different time,” Broome said. “We are practicing social distancing even while we are videoing but we do have Sunday morning worship. It is available on Facebook our website and YouTube and then we do Wednesday night. We have a video for preschoolers, a video for children, a video for youth and a video for adults. That’s a Wednesday evening. So we are kind of saturating the area with videos.”

Broome said the videos have been very successful.

“(A week ago, last Wednesday night, was our first Wednesday night online,” Broome said. “We typically have about 300 people on our church campus on Wednesday night and I have between 100 and 120 for my Wednesday night Bible study. The first Wednesday night, I had 1,400 people watching online.”

Raj Bahara, associate pastor at Parkway Baptist Church of Natchez, said his church, too, is hosting daily devotional videos online as well as Sunday services and Sunday school classes.

“We’ve moved all of our Sunday morning Sunday school online,” Bahara said. “Then our morning worship service is totally online.”

Bahara said online viewership is very good.

“One thing that has been a hit with us, popular, is our lunch hour prayer times,” Bahara said. “At noon we go online and the men at our church go on and do a short devotional.”

Prayer meetings are streamed on Facebook live and Parkway hosts some interactive adult prayer services utilizing Zoom, a video conferencing site. Links to those also can be found on Parkway Baptist Church’s website.

All pastors said their congregations are grateful to have the video streaming services available during this time of social distancing, and the pastors also agreed that even after the social distancing is over they will likely continue offering some online streaming of services.