The Collegedale Church of Seventh-day Adventists has been doing its best to protect students who attend Sabbath worship services on campus, according to two pastors who lead heavily attended church programs.
Both Pastor David Ferguson, senior pastor of the Collegedale Church, and Pastor Reginald Horton, the spiritual leader of Merge and the Collegedale Church’s collegiate pastor, said they have been working with the leaders of Southern Adventist University to give students the most out of their worship experience amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Ferguson, the Collegedale Church has a board of about 30 individuals, including but not limited to church staff, Southern chaplains and others involved in the community. Also on the board is head deacon and one of the medical advisors to the community, Dr. Richard Moody.
Ferguson said board members work together with the university to establish what protocols would be best for the church in regards to protecting the students not only of Southern, but also of the elementary, middle and high schools in the surrounding area.
Last year, the Collegedale Church closely followed the lead of the university by requiring masks, social distancing and health screenings. According to Ferguson, this year, after very close conversations with Southern President Ken Shaw, the church is not in the exact same place as the university as far as COVID-19 protocols but always attempts to do what is best for the students in terms of safety.
As of right now, the Collegedale Church is not offering in-person Vespers. Ferguson said the student body present for Vespers would not fit because the church has roped off every other pew for social distancing. However, according to the Collegedale Church bulletin for the week, church services are still taking place in-person at 9 a.m. and 11:45 a.m. every Sabbath morning. Masks are strongly recommended but not required at these services.
“At our services, we say, ‘Wherever you are in this conversation, would you please consider wearing one?’” Ferguson said in an interview with the Accent. “However, this is a judgement-free zone. There is no place for bullying, condemnation or unkindness. It may be expressly because of how we treat others in the midst of this that a person decides if God is even real or not. This is the time to love each other, even the person who is doing the opposite of you.”
The Merge worship service is another Sabbath worship service on campus that has been greatly affected by the recent COVID-19 protocols. Usually, Merge meets in Lynn Wood Hall at 10:30 a.m. and at 12:30 p.m. However, it was moved online two weeks ago.
“To my knowledge, the cabinet of the university is where we get our protocols from, with the overall purpose being to make sure the university doesn’t have to shut down because of the virus spreading,” Horton said.
Merge is expected to return to in-person worship on October 2. As far as COVID-19 protocols go for the Merge in-person worship service, masks are required. However, there are currently no roped-off pews or social distancing protocols in place.
“I think we should have worship looked at differently than an academic class setting, in my opinion,” Horton said. “In the cafe, everyone is sitting together with no masks, but Merge worship was put online. So, it does hurt my heart because I know Merge is where a lot of students come and get spiritually filled. With that being said, I am a rule follower, so whatever the university says is what we are going to do.”
Horton asked that students keep praying for God to work upon all the hearts on campus to have faith in Him and begin the process of reestablishing spiritual function within the community at large.