Bible Baptist Church pastor Rob Green was excited May 28 for church May 31. He said the Wiscasset church’s new virtual and newer drive-in services have gone very well, but on Sunday, May 31, he would hold the service in the auditorium with the congregation for the first time in more than two months.
“It’s been way too long, so we are all excited,” he said.
And if attendance breaks 50, he will keep to Gov. Janet Mills’ limit and run an FM transmitter out to the parking lot for the other attendees, Green said. Drive-in services started three weeks ago, Green said in Thursday’s phone interview. He noted he disagrees with Mills on nearly everything, but is going by the protocols for worship services as the state gradually reopens. “I’m trying not to buck the governor ... I’m going to abide by the rules.”
The checklist, effective May 29, includes protocols for staff and for in-person services. The document also states churches should “continue to consider” alternatives to in-person. “The State of Maine has adopted a staged approach, supported by science, public health expertise, and industry collaboration, to allow Maine organizations to safely open when the time is right ... The best way to prevent spread of COVID-19 is to avoid exposure.”
The week after the state released the checklist May 22, Wiscasset Newspaper checked back with churches it talked with in March as in-person services stopped. Bible Baptist Church has been live-streaming services and, in May, added the drive-in option.
Green said the church will still offer live-streams, for at least another couple of months, and he encourages anyone to watch as long as they remain uncomfortable with attending. He noted live-streaming when addressing a gathering will be harder than when he was addressing a phone. So he wasn’t sure if the virtual service would continue long term. The live-streams are on Green’s Facebook page; audio versions are at wbbchurch.org
Green and Wiscasset Church of the Nazarene Senior Pastor Wally Staples said their online services have attracted viewers from out of state, including friends from 40 years ago, Green added.
Staples said video services have been running on wife Sharon Staples’ Facebook page. In a phone interview Friday, he said the district superintendent has broken down the latest guidelines for pastors to study and follow. Staples had no projection on when the Gardiner Road church would resume in-person services.
Meanwhile, that church and St. Philip’s Episcopal Church on Hodge Street have continued to offer their food pantries, adapted to pandemic precautions. As for church services, St. Philip’s member Gretchen Burleigh-Johnson said those remained suspended. She wrote in an email response May 28, “Just yesterday we were notified by the diocese (of Maine) that St. Philip's won't be able to hold services till July 5. The only activity allowed is the food pantry.”
First Congregational Church of Wiscasset Pastor Josh Fitterling did not know when worship services will be in-person again. Responding to questions via text, he wrote: “No matter what, virtual worship will continue! This is very important to us, especially since there are many folks who, for a long time, will not feel comfortable attending a service in-person.
“While we are putting a lot of thought into how to hold in-person service as safely as possible, we have no date currently set to resume and are not rushing a decision. This will be re-evaluated regularly through conversation and prayer, as we seek to care for the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of our congregation and community,” Fitterling told Wiscasset Newspaper.