Morning service at Christ Community Wesleyan Church on March 15, 2020.

Caution Marks Services at Athens County’s Largest Church

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ALBANY, Ohio (WOUB) – “Welcome to the church of no contact,” quipped Matthew Morris as he entered Christ Community Wesleyan Church near Albany on Sunday.

Tally of attendees at CCWC service after precautions surrounding coronavirus.

The church, which normally welcomes more than 500 to its services each Sunday, seated fewer than 200. The sparse attendance, and amped-up hygienics were the church’s answer to coronavirus concerns.

CCWC Lead Pastor Steve Warner said the precautions were immediately evident by a lack of greeters who would normally open the doors. The church chose to lead congregants not into temptation.

“Typically what you do is that you stick your hand out and you shake the hand so we didn’t want that to be an issue and for our lobby,” he said. “We had a couple of stands for hand sanitizer and the main part of the service where there’s any kind of real contact, where there’s passing the plate for offerings, we did a different thing for offerings we placed the plates on the front alter and gave people the opportunity to come forward and place their monetary gifts in the offering.”

Despite earlier directing the congregation to online streams of the service, Warner said turnout for both services was a surprise.

“Honestly they were higher than I thought,” he said. “I had a lot of people engage with me and let me know they wouldn’t be here but they’d still be tuning in online. I expected much lower numbers and our people turned out which wasn’t even half of what we normally have, but we did see a good turnout today despite spring break and despite the coronavirus scare.”

The decision to continue in-person services was not an easy one according to Warner.

“We wanted to continue the normalcy to have some consistency and to have our regular services so people would have an opportunity to come to a place where maybe they’ve been struggling this week with fear or being isolated,” he said. “At the same time we encouraged people to stay at home if they were high risk, or if they were in contact with anyone who might have had any kind of symptoms. So we had our regular services, we just did so with caution.

Warner’s message was on patience.

10:30 am worship service at CCWC draws less than half the number of people because of coronavirus concern.

“I had been planning on speaking on the fruits of the Spirit over the course of this series and this week was steadfast patience. Now I will tell you that some of my illustrations and some of the specific practical thoughts tied in nicely with really the season, the climate we’re in right now about the unknown,” he said.

The church’s approach to social distancing has also extended to pastoral visitation.

Lead CCWC Pastor Steve Warner meets with Youth Pastor Dave Ash and Outreach Director Lyn Richard about plans for continuing services amid coronavirus concerns.

“That’s going to be really limited now,” he said. “There are some places where legally we are not able to get there anymore, but at the same time a lot of the visits take place with people who would be high risk so a lower amount of physical contact is beneficial. We’ll probably slow those down as far as physical visitations, but still keep people involved as much as we can whether it be through phone calls, mail, that type of thing.”

Warner said his staff will meet this week to determine whether to continue the traditional services. He said he is taking his cues from other churches, President Trump and Gov. DeWine.