Like private and public institutions, house of worship are practicing social distancing, while at the same time trying to balance how to best continue to minister to their congregations and communities.
One such example is the Shepherd of the Woods Lutheran Church which has locations at 7860 Southside Blvd. and 6595 Columbia Park Court.
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Pastor George Johnson said his a big part of his congregation’s ministry is the “ministry of presence,” which has made the coronavirus particularly challenging.
“So when we go to a nursing home or to a hospital or shut-in, it’s the very presence of the pastor or the lay person who’s gone there that has the greatest percentage of value to the person.”
The church received word that one of the nursing homes it visited did have residents who tested positive for COVID-19. But they were in a different part of the building. The nursing home told the church the Florida Department of Health has already followed up with anyone throughout the building who needs to be tested or self-quarantined.
For now, the church has had to suspend its nursing home visits, instead following up wherever possible with virtual contact and spiritual aides.
“We also send daily a devotion with three scriptural lessons that are read to people. So you can either read your cell phone text or listen to it.”
The church also uses email and newsletters.
As of Monday morning, Shepherd of the Woods hadn’t cancelled its in-person worship services but had made adjustments.
Communion was no longer offered in a common chalice, and hugs had been replaced with elbow bumps or peace signs. Virtual services via YouTube were also being offered.
On Monday, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry announced new restrictions on all establishments, including houses of worship. No more than 50 people would be allowed to gather indoors, beginning at 5 p.m. Monday. Exceptions are made for grocery stores, office buildings and factories.
Pastor Johnson said especially at a time like this, it’s important to not forget about those who are isolated or separated from the community.
“The greatest challenge we have as a church at a time like this, where there is so much division - naturally in the world - has been magnified by a physical stress makes the work of the church even more difficult and much more important,” he said.