Church leaders debate whether they should reopen amidst pandemic

Catholic churches in South Carolina are able to reopen with limited capacity

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WOLO) —As the state slowly starts to reopen, churches across South Carolina are grappling with the idea of reopening their doors.

Some have already had services in front of smaller crowds of worshippers in the past week, but some are keeping closed.

Just weeks after being released from the hospital due to his fight with the coronavirus, Pastor Charles Cureton of Friendship Baptist Church in Hopkins says now is not the time to bring people back inside his church.

“The curve hasn’t been flattened. There’s still new cases and people dying in South Carolina, so we definitely have to be prayerful and be careful before we go back into it,” Pastor Cureton said. 

However, other churches are taking steps to welcome back worshippers.

Gov. Henry McMaster (R-SC) never explicitly banned churches across the state from having services, saying it would violate the First Amendment.

With businesses across the state starting to reopen, churches are following suit, but with a new mentality.

“What I keep saying is that we need to live by prayer and Purrell. We want to meet, we want to be out there, our people expect that of us, but we’ve got to be safe, too,” Dr. Mike Hamlet, the Senior Pastor at First Baptist North Spartanburg, told fellow members of the “accelerateSC” task force Tuesday.

Last week, members of the Diocese of Charleston, including the Basilica of St. Peter’s in Columbia, started holding masses with fewer people in the pews.

According to Father Gary Linsky, around 1,200 people come to masses every weekend. With new capacity limits set forth by the Diocese, only 300 came this past weekend.

The church also has hand sanitizing stations and staff thoroughly cleaning the sanctuary after each mass.

“We’re doing all this as a means of enabling people to be safe and yet still be able to worship, so I think we’re seeking to have an abundance of caution to provide people the opportunity to be present but respecting the reality that this virus is dangerous,” Father Linsky said. 

Meanwhile, Pastor Cureton says no date has been set on when his congregation can come back inside his church, but he says the facility will be professionally cleaned and decontaminated.

“Each church is their own entity so leadership will do what’s best for them, but for me and the flock the Lord calls me to shepherd, I believe we need to take our time,” Pastor Cureton said.

Some of the state’s recommendations for churches in South Carolina include removing frequently touched items, like hymnals, and parts of the service where people could touch each other.

As of Thursday, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) says there have been at least 9,379 cases of coronavirus in South Carolina, with 416 deaths reported.

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