Town worship still at a distance

Although Knox County officials allowed churches to open in the first phase of re-opening Friday, May 1, in light of the coronavirus pandemic, several Farragut church leaders have decided to wait.

First Baptist Concord, 11704 Kingston Pike, has come up with steps to a “new normal,” which currently start with continuing to meet online each Sunday, digital Zoom groups for Bible study and other practices.

“You will hear about some prayer gatherings we are planning for the month of May,” the Rev. John Mark Harrison, FBC senior pastor, stated in an online video to his congregation. “We’re hopeful we can move to step two by the end of May, first of June,” which would include beginning to gather again in person.

“We’re not exactly certain what that date is yet … we also recognize our online worship services will be a priority going forward in the life of our church,” he added.

Looking at the big picture, “The reality is this virus has changed our world and it has changed our church,” Harrison stated. “We’re having to make some very difficult decisions about many ministries in our church, as it pertains to sanitation guidelines, as to how many people it is safe to be in a certain room right now.

“We have been wrestling through what is the proper means to bring back our church to on-campus, on-person gatherings,” he added.

The Rev. Dr. Robert Stelter, pastor of Faith Lutheran Church, tor, said his church at 225 Jamestowne Blvd. currently has no plans to hold in-person services.

“We are postponed indefinitely, but our leadership is meeting pretty much every day to come up with a date and a plan: like if we have worship, how do we do social distancing, how do we open doors, just those important things,” Stelter said. “It’s all being worked on right now, but we don’t have a hard date set yet.”

Two Rivers Church, 275 Harrison Lane, Lenoir City (Dixie Lee Junction), also plans to continue with online, interactive worship instead of in-person services.

“We are not going to have (in-person) church services in our building probably until late May at this time,” communications director Jennifer Collins said.

Deciding issues included “the fact that you can’t sing and children aren’t allowed in services, nor are people ages 55 and over,” she said. “We want to be able to open our doors to everyone, and we just think, at this time, continuing with our online worship is probably going to be the best experience.”

Concord United Methodist Church, 11020 Roane Drive, also is holding off in-person services — with no opening date in mind.

“As a United Methodist Church, our situation is a little different in that we are part of the Holston Conference,” the governing body of United Methodist Churches, said the Rev. Larry Trotter, senior pastor of CUMC. “Our resident bishop (Mary Virginia Taylor) is the one who closed the churches and will be the one to open them … it is out of our hands.”

He explained the Holston Conference covers three states – Tennessee, Virginia and part of Georgia.

“There’s a lot of membership and a lot of different regulations to consider,” Trotter said. “The bishop will consider all those guidelines from the three states.”

Meanwhile, it will continue with online worship services and Bible study.

Likewise, St. John Neumann Catholic Church, 633 St. John Way, under the jurisdiction of Roman Catholic Diocese of Knoxville, is among 51 Catholic churches in East Tennessee and a small part of Kentucky for which Bishop Richard F. Stika must decide a re-opening date.

In a statement to parishioners, Stika stated he is hoping to resume public Masses at all of the parishes and mission churches in the Diocese of Knoxville the weekend of Pentecost Sunday, May 30-31.

“It is my hope that by the Solemnity of Pentecost, which we celebrate as the day the Holy Spirit came to the Apostles, and the day our Church began, we can, in some fashion, return to public Masses in our diocese,” Stika said. “We will use the next few weeks to make sure we’re doing things properly, and I know that all of our priests join me in looking forward to celebrating the Mass with our parish families once again.”

At Christ Covenant Church P.C.A., 12915 Kingston Pike, “We are still working on specifics and have no date for re-opening at this time,” Teresa Pratt, the church’s director of media and design, stated in an e-mail.

“We have online worship services each Sunday at 9:30 (a.m.), as well as many other online encouragements,” she further stated.