Some Cobb County churches are resuming in-person worship under strict social distancing and hygiene guidelines, starting this Sunday.
On May 17, Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta is starting its first on-site services since shelter-in-place orders were imposed in mid-March.
Congregants will be able to attend the 10:30 a.m. service in the church’s worship center, which has capacity for 350 individuals and 450 in family groups under guidelines in place to prevent spread of the new coronavirus.
“We are constantly seeking ways to serve our community within this new normal,” the Rev. Joe Buckner, executive pastor, told the MDJ on Friday. “Our congregation has expressed a strong resiliency to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, like most Americans, many have been feeling the effects of isolation, anxiety, job loss, etc. We are working to provide emotional, mental, physical and spiritual assistance along the way.”
Buckner said for those attending in-church worship Sunday mornings, there will be hand sanitizer and face masks, roped-off seating areas distanced at least six feet apart, restricted entry and exits, and monitoring of how many people use the restrooms.
Church staff will have their temperatures monitored each Sunday, medically vulnerable congregants are urged to stay at home and internal doors will remain propped open so no one has to touch them, he said.
“The policy of live together/sit together will be encouraged,” Buckner said. “Deacons will function as ushers to seat people from the front to the back of the worship center, while maintaining distancing protocols. Deacons will dismiss congregants after the service, similarly to a wedding. Clustering of congregants within the facility will be discouraged.”
Buckner said the church hopes to resume normal programming by August, providing it is safe to do so.
Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in east Cobb is also planning to start in-person worship starting June 7.
Communications Director Nellie More told the MDJ detailed plans have yet to be announced to congregants, but there will be two each of the modern and traditional services to start.
“We will follow (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines for social distancing and hygiene,” More said Friday. “We will also continue to offer virtual worship services for those who are not comfortable coming to the church. Our congregation is eager to regather but we plan to take a conservative approach.”
More said most of the church’s adult and student groups are meeting virtually at present, and no other campus activities are planned for June at this time.
Many other Cobb churches continue to offer virtual-only services, for congregants to watch and participate in online.
Amy Goetze, communications director at St. James Episcopal Church in Marietta, said the church is heeding its bishop’s directive, which is that all churches in the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta must be exclusively online until further notice.
“I think that many of our parishioners are eager to return to church but understand the need to be cautious,” Goetze told the MDJ on Friday. “We have such an active parish, and many miss seeing their friends, and they miss serving and volunteering at St. James. While we have the tools to gather online, technology can never replace in-person worship. People long for physical interaction and connection.”
Goetze said the church is exploring creative ways to safely gather in person for worship when the time comes, such as drive-in services in the parking lot.
“This drive-in service would include distribution of Holy Communion, music (with a portable organ), singing and worshiping together, all in keeping within the social distancing restrictions of the governor’s executive orders,” she said.
Here are the latest worship details for some of Cobb’s main churches:
Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta
The Sunday 10:30 a.m. worship is scheduled on campus through May 31, when the church’s Hispanic Fellowship will also start meeting at a 9 a.m. Sunday service in the church’s gathering place, and the Brazilian Fellowship will start meeting for an 11 a.m. Sunday service in the loft.
Buckner said two Sunday services will be held in the worship center at 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. between June 7 and July 26, depending on the number of congregants who attend.
“We will be devising a plan for a Laotian Fellowship worship gathering,” Buckner added. “We may offer multiple worship service options if the need arises. We will monitor attendance and adjust accordingly.”
All preschool, children, student and adult programming is suspended, and no food will be provided on campus, until “phases 2 and 3” of the pandemic are over, he said.
“Our leadership teams will continue to monitor the COVID-19 data and will adjust as needed along the way,” Buckner said. “We are keeping a watchful eye on both Cobb County Schools and Marietta City Schools as a helpful guide for resuming children’s and student activities. We are keeping in touch with the local medical community to receive input on our decisions moving forward.”
Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in east Cobb
Congregants are encouraged to worship online, or per CDC social distancing guidelines in small at-home groups through the end of May.
The church plans to start on-campus worship June 7 and continue with that through July 26.
During this time no childcare or other age-related activities will happen on site.
The church hopes to be able to resume normal activities in August.
In the meantime, services are available to watch live online.
“Until we are able to all be together again on campus, think of how you can creatively and safely begin the process of gathering together again in person,” the church states on its website.
St. Joseph Catholic Church in Marietta
“The Bishop has granted dispensation excusing Catholics from the obligation of Masses during this time,” the church states on its website.
All public Masses remain suspended, although private Masses are being offered and the church building and parish office remain open with limited staff, per the church.
Masses are live streamed at 10 a.m. in English and midday in Spanish Sundays on the church’s website and YouTube channel.
All classes have been suspended until further notice.
Piedmont Church in Marietta
Worship remains online with Sunday services at 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. each week on the church’s website.
Other services, including those for children and students, are also being conducted remotely through the internet and social media, the church advises.
First United Methodist Church of Marietta
There is a drive-thru Communion on Sunday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., when the clergy will serve congregants “pre-sealed elements,” the church states on its Facebook page.
“Love this idea!,” one woman commented on the post. “Y’all are really thinking outside of the box these days to safely keep us connected! Well done!!”
Worship remains online through the church’s website.
First Presbyterian Church of Marietta
Worship is only offered through live stream at 11 a.m. Sundays until further notice, per the church’s website.
The church told the MDJ it plans to resume in-person worship after Gov. Brian Kemp lifts the state shelter-in-place order for people of all ages. Currently those over the age of 65, and the medically fragile, are urged to remain sheltering in place although this order no longer applies to others.
"We won’t consider resuming in-person worship until all people have the choice to attend," the church stated in an email to the MDJ Monday. "We will most likely start back with one worship service at 11 a.m. but have not yet set a date to resume."
The church said a task force of elected leaders in the congregation is studying the issue of reopening on-site services and recommending policies such as requiring that all people wear masks and that nothing be passed between participants, such as offering plates or bulletins.
"It seems as though the members of First Presbyterian Church are reacting to this pandemic in a variety of ways," said Senior Pastor the Rev. Joe Evans. "Some are anxious to resume 'normal' activities, others want to stay home to reduce their exposure. What seems clear to me at this point is that in-person worship for the summer will have so many restrictions that it may not provide the sense of comfort and normalcy that many seek."
Evans said physical distancing, face masks, not being able to greet people with a handshake or a hug, and possibly not being able to sing, will all change the worship experience drastically.
"Personally, I miss seeing the members of our church so much that I look forward to seeing them back in church regardless," he said. "Yet, staying home may be the best choice for many for several weeks to come."
Mount Bethel United Methodist Church in east Cobb
Online worship remains on Sundays at 9:30 a.m., 11 a.m. and 6 p.m., the church states online, adding virtual Bible study is Wednesdays at 7 p.m.
Turner Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Marietta
Virtual Sunday worship is 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. May 17, per the church’s website. Congregants can watch on the website or the church’s Facebook page.
Destiny World Church in Austell
Sunday worship is 8 a.m. through the church’s website and Facebook page.
St. James Episcopal Church in Marietta
Worship is online on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. via the church’s website, YouTube channel and Facebook page.
Bible study, ministry and committee meetings, youth activities, and children’s activities are being held via Zoom video conferencing.