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When Sedgwick County announced a ban of public gatherings of more than 250 people on March 13, most churches were prepared to set a new course for Sunday worship.
Wichita’s Saint Mark UMC planned to fill the sanctuary to host about 240 people, and the overflow would use the Family Life Center to view service live.
Just days later, on March 16, the state of Kansas lowered the ban to 50 people, and heads started swirling. The general plan most churches have landed on seems to be live-feed coverage of Sunday services, viewed through social media platforms.
Starting March 15, Wichita’s Tabernacle Bible Church closed its doors for face-to-face service. They chose to live-stream both their Sunday school and worship services. First Lady Annie Montgomery confirmed that through March, in-person service is cancelled.
Moving into April, the church will wait to resume in-person services after hearing updated information from state officials and the health department. Unfortunately, Tabernacle’s Easter Sunday plans have already been cancelled; in preparation for a long-term pandemic situation, they are keeping their offices open solelly to handle questions and concerns that members may have.
Across Wichita, pastors are encouraging their members to be smart and safe, and to stay in contact with one another, especially with older members of their congregations. These members are most vulnerable to the effects of coronavirus.
Pastor Roosevelt DeShazer confirmed that through the end of March, in-person service is cancelled at Progressive Missionary Baptist as well. On March 29 they will begin live-streaming their services through social media channels. If members don’t have access to the live-feed, they are encouraged to pick up a DVD copy from the office. Tithes and offering are still encouraged – members can drop them off or mail them in.
By April, Progressive plans to open its doors again, but only if there are no known cases of coronavirus in Sedgwick County at that time.
Pastor Robert Johnson at Saint Mark UMC is hopeful that the community will come together. “The Greater Wichita Ministerial League is working together to bring solutions, because it’s going to take real community effort to get through this hard time,” he said.
The league usually meets once a month, on the first Thursday, but as the polices changed swiftly, they had to reconvene. They plan to meet on March 20 with Mayor Brandon Whipple and other city officials to come up with a financial plan to help churches and members who might be affected financially during this period. They’re even working with the Wichita Food Bank to provide meals for seniors who can’t get out.
Through sermon, social posts, and mass emails, Pastor Johnson has committed to keeping his congregation connected. Though they are also following the Sunday service live-feed wave, Saint Mark will host small Bible study groups during the week; in groups of five to seven people.
Like Progressive, if things improve, in-person service at Saint Mark will resume in April, including several Easter services. However, if they continue the way they are, Easter will be celebrated online.
During this time, Pastor Johnson also encourages the public to “walk by faith, and to stay intentional about family and helping the community.”