On Aug. 1, Greater Piney Grove Baptist Church had its first in-person Sunday service since March 2020.
The 107-year-old church has had longtime members get sick and die from COVID-19. Some are sick now with the Delta variant. Vaccine requirements are the only way forward, according to Miranda McKenzie, the church’s public relations director. “We are following the science,” McKenzie says. “It’s much safer to be vaccinated than not to be. We go over and beyond taking safety precautions for our members.”
Along with vaccination, church members must have their temperature checked, sign a waiver, and wear a mask.
Worshippers who don’t come in person can livestream the service on YouTube and Facebook.
When the church says everyone must be vaccinated, they mean everyone. People under the age of 12 aren’t allowed in the church building. Youth services are being streamed online.
While they may be one of the first churches to require COVID-19 vaccination, McKenzie says others are probably not far behind.
“There are others [churches] that are planning on opening in September, and I do believe that they also are requiring vaccinations,” McKenzie says.
Most members are grateful for the tight measures, according to McKenzie.
“We have been away from the sanctuary for over 18 months, so we are really anxious to get back inside,” McKenzie says. “We have a lot of older members, so we want to take extra precautions to keep all of our members safe.”
But not everyone -- even if vaccinated -- can attend in-person services. With more than 3,000 members, only 200 people attend at one time.
Parishioners can sign up for in-person service on Mondays at 8 a.m. Spots are usually filled by 4 p.m. the same day, McKenzie says.
The church is committed to following public safety guidelines from health experts.
They encourage members to do their own research on COVID-19, but to be careful of where they’re getting their information, McKenzie says.
“We’re talking about going to reliable sources,” McKenzie says. “Get off of the internet, get off of Facebook as far as listening to theories, and go to credible sources and do your research.”
“In my personal opinion, not that of the church, it’s unreal that people are thinking that way,” McKenzie says. “Are they not considering the number of deaths we’ve had worldwide as a result of COVID? What facts are they following to make such a decision?”
Behind all their strong policies is health and member safety, she says.
But gathering as a community is no less important, especially this Sunday. The church is celebrating its 107-year anniversary.
“We are very excited,” McKenzie says. “Because even though we can livestream on Facebook and YouTube, it is nothing like actually being in the sanctuary and worshipping with other members.”