In a Tuesday press conference, State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs reiterated the dangers in attending large gatherings as the COVID-19 pandemic worsens in the state. Still, church services are continuing as normal across the county.
Dobbs addressed church services specifically in the press conference and urged people to view services online.
“Is it safe to do in-person church? There are safer ways to do it,” Dobbs said. “The safest way to do it and the smartest way to do it is virtual.”
Dobbs said that, while wearing masks and avoiding actions that increase virus spread like singing is safer, the best option is to worship from home.
Chad Everson, senior pastor at Trinity Baptist Church, said that while he encourages the immunocompromised members of his congregation to stay home, all precautions being taken are up to the attendee’s discretion.
“My job is to deliver the truth and to exercise wisdom and precaution,” Everson said. “There are people all over the map on this.”
Everson acknowledged that there is a wide variety of opinions when it comes to the effectiveness of masks and how seriously the virus should be taken. He said that his church offers its services online, and that he does not plan to make changes regarding their current safety protocols.
According to Everson, Trinity Baptist church offers masks but does not require attendees to wear them. The church has sanitizing stations, and there is also space for attendees to social distance “if they want to,” Everson said.
Last week, Dobbs issued a health alert, warning all Mississippians to avoid any type of gathering, including church service, funerals, sporting events, weddings and other nonessential functions. As the number of new cases and deaths continues to surge in DeSoto County and across the state, Dobbs said that the state could see 1,000 more deaths in the three weeks left of 2020.
Bill Beavers, lead pastor of Getwell Church, said in a statement that he remains in communication with health officials and plans to reevaluate the best practice each week. For now, he said, services will be conducted as usual.
“We have been in many conversations for several days about wise practices at Getwell Church. We are cautious and have the health of our congregation as a priority – physically and spiritually,” Beavers said in the statement. “With the blessing of livestream and Facebook, our congregation can choose to worship online, and with our worship seating arrangement, social distancing is being practiced.”
The leadership at Hernando Baptist Church said in a statement that, while they are planning to conduct in-person services as normal, they will make more “concrete plans” in coming weeks based on guidance from Gov. Tate Reeves.
“In the coming weeks, we hope to make some important decisions about how we will continue to help others grow in their relationship with the Lord and still protect their lives and the lives of their neighbors,” senior pastor David Williamson said in a statement.
Reeves has been firm in his refusal to place limitations on church services. In a Nov. 30 Facebook post, Reeves emphasized his belief that the government should not restrict religious gatherings.
“God is bigger than government. The right to freely practice your faith must never be infringed,” Reeves said in the post.
In Reeves’ newest executive order, masks are required in all public spaces, and gatherings are limited to 10 people indoors and 50 outdoors.