As Governor Tate Reeves puts out guidelines for in-person church services during the COVID-19 pandemic, Hattiesburg Mayor Toby Barker and other city officials are working toward doing the same at the local level.
Barker said Tuesday that he and other city officials have been meeting via Zoom with pastors regarding measures they may want to consider, many of which are reflected in the governor’s guidelines.
“We’ll be pushing those out to pastors in the coming days,” Barker said. “Everybody’s on the same page in that they’re going to have to do things differently. Some churches are going to wait until June or July to start meeting, and some will start May 31, which is the absolute earliest we recommend going back.”
Reeves never officially shut churches down – saying he doesn’t believe the government can or should do that – but he did personally ask pastors to temporarily halt in-person services to keep members safe.
The governor has suggested limiting the number of people inside churches, deep cleaning the buildings, considering a separate service for vulnerable members, replacing choirs with solo performers, avoiding offering plates and cleaning any coffee stands in the building, among other measures.
“We’re certainly glad the governor’s recommendations included asking churches to have everybody masked up – that’s a big part, especially when there’s going to be singing and (things like that),” Barker said. “But we’ve been so fortunate to have local churches take the lead on researching best practices.
“Venture Church’s Hunt Club campus did a site visit for a lot of us and Zoom’d it to other churches, and so there’s really been a lot of great information sharing between faith communities. Everyone wants to get back to being in a community; however, they also recognize that if you’re over the age of 60 or have underlying health conditions, you probably need to stay put for a while. Church is going to look very different going forward, and I think all of our faith leaders recognize that.”