With cases still rising all over the country, local congregations face challenges during COVID-19. In Hamilton County, churches are allowed to choose whether to open or close and whether or not to require people to wear masks during services according to directive No. 5 of the Hamilton County Health (Jan. 16, 2021). Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) churches in the Chattanooga area have chosen various approaches to cater to the needs of their members and communities.
“We are doing everything we can to keep our church, university and community safe,” said David Ferguson, senior pastor of the Collegedale Church of Seventh-day Adventists.
According to Ferguson, the Collegedale Church follows a series of protocols including temperature checks, health surveys and mask requirements.
At the East Ridge SDA Church in East Ridge, Tenn., the congregation offers two places of worship to accommodate members who prefer to wear masks and those who prefer not to wear masks. A live service is alternated between the two locations. Church leaders find themselves working with two groups of people who feel strongly about implementing COVID-19 protocols or not implementing them.
“Most people, when they come to our church, cooperate with our protocols,” said Steven Grabiner, pastor of the East Ridge SDA Church. “On one side, there is the feeling that we are not strong enough with our protocols. And, on the other side, the feeling that people’s autonomy is being taken away.”
Just a few miles away, Hamilton Community Church has been “growing since the pandemic,” according to Hal Moore, the church’s communications director.
Church members, students, community members and guests have been attending the now very active Hamilton Community Church.
“COVID-19 has been the best thing that has happened to our church,” said Dave Ketelsen, the church’s pastor.
When COVID-19 struck, the church moved to two services and Ketelsen feared that their numbers would diminish. Instead, Ketelsen reported that this has not been the case.
“We have been pretty steady with our numbers and even grown to add a third service,” Ketelsen said.
In addition to the growth of the church, members have been involved in their community “like never before,” according to Moore.
“New ministries are popping everywhere, and it is like new life has been breathed into our church,” Moore said.
Southern students’ opinions vary regarding COVID-19 restrictions in church. Alyssa Stojkic, freshman psychology major, expressed her views about COVID-19 protocols.
“Church should continue to do its best to maintain the safety of all people,” Stojkic said. “Social distancing is hard to maintain in church, but people have the choice not to attend if they don’t feel safe.”
On the other hand, some students don’t believe that they should be forced to wear a mask in church. Freshman nursing major David Lazcano said masks in church should be optional.
“I think that the church should allow individuals to decide whether they want to wear a mask or not,” Lazcano said.