SCIOTO — When the coronavirus made its presence known in the area, local church leaders knew that bringing large groups of people together for worship could pose a threat.
When Ohio Governor Mike Dewine’s Stay at Home order went into effect for the state March 23, 2020, pastors and board members did not take this lightly and made accommodations to do their part to protect their members and community.
One of the larger churches in Scioto County took the advice from health officials and made other arrangements to provide inspiration and encouragement to their flock.
“We did not want to shut down, but we had to scale back a lot,” said Rubyville Community Church Assistant pastor Brian Baer. “We went to all online services for a few weeks, and we had already been livestreaming for a while so that adjustment was easier for us.”
Rubyville is a nondenominational church that averaged about 700 people Sunday mornings before Covid-19 hit. Soon after the pandemic began, the leaders made the decision to transition to online services and realized it was the best move for the people who attend. “But when things started to open back up, we understood and listened to the recommendations of health officials and limited time in the service to about an hour. After an hour, people sitting with a mask on can be difficult, and we wanted to limit the time people were gathered. We encouraged social distancing and limited time in the sanctuary.”
The church purchased cleaning steamers and extra sanitation supplies and custodians, and several volunteers give the sanctuary a deep cleaning after each service.
“We have adapted to a different form of worship, and we have geared it more toward impactful worship,” Baer said. “Eventually, our choir, Sunday School and children’s church will be back, but there are some things we don’t want to see normal again. Our focus is all about worship now more than ever.”
Baer added he has noticed a sizable increase in people watching the livestream. “We have people literally all over the nation watching and overseas too. We have the ability to reach those people with the gospel.”
As of March, Rubyville Community is running at about 65% of its regular attendance.
Rick Clark, the pastor of The Rock Church in Wheelersburg, said his church went to the great outdoors when the pandemic hit.
“Initially, when (Ohio) Gov. Mike DeWine asked churches to scale back, we met as leaders and decided for the benefit of the community to back off from in person services,” he said. “We stayed out for several weeks and started doing video sermons and connecting with our congregation through Facebook.”
In May 2020, the church of about 300 members under normal conditions started to have services in the parking lot at the Wheelersburg Cinema. “It went great for a while,” Clark said. “But then summer came, and it got hot really quick.”
Eventually, Clark said the doors opened back up, and the church started to have indoor services again, but they were cautious.
“We made sure everyone wore a mask and did social distancing, and we blocked off every other row,” Clark added. “We made adjustments because we always serve communion each Sunday, so we had to do something different when it came to that part of the worship service.”
Now the Rock Church uses disposable communion packets, and he said it works just as well.
But in December, Clark and his wife, Cindy, both came down with Covid-19.
“It was tough and a struggle, but we got through it,” he said. “During all of this, I think we have all learned to worship better and to appreciate our church more every day.”
And Tyler Breech, the pastor of Tick Ridge Freewill Baptist Church echoed Clark’s analogy.
“Not that we ever really did, but I think we don’t take worship for granted,” Breech said. “I think through all of this, our congregation is more thankful and grateful than ever.”
Breech, who leads a church of about 80 people under normal circumstances, said early in the pandemic that his leaders moved from in person services to all online.
“It was good at first, but after a few weeks, it got a little mundane,” he said. “Then on Easter last year, we went to the drive-in services in our parking lot, and the people liked that.”
Now the church is back to in person services but makes a radio frequency and outdoor speakers available for those who still wish to attend church in their cars in the parking lot.
“We do all the social distancing, and we clean after each service,” Breech added. “We stream the service on Facebook and YouTube. We have our services, but we have scaled back on the fellowship for now. But through all of this, I can speak for my congregation and say that our worship has become more important during this time than ever before.”