SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Sunday was the first day in months that churches across the state were allowed to worship together in person after nearly a year of coronavirus restrictions that limited the size of gatherings, but the pastor of one Shreveport church is not ready to open the church doors wide just yet.
Morning Star Baptist Church Pastor Dr. Theron Jackson said Sunday he is continuing to take extra precautions until he can be sure COVID-19 is no longer a serious threat to the most vulnerable in the community.
“This virus spreads in social environments and the church is a social environment,” Jackson said.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards signed orders moving the state into Phase 3 of reopening on March 1, citing encouraging trends in the number of cases and hospitalizations. The loosened restrictions allow restaurants and bars to re-open to indoor dining at higher capacities and churches to operate without capacity limits, although with social distancing and masking.
“Because of the governor’s announcement, that means that churches are able, but I’m not necessarily sure that churches will be responsible,” Jackson said.
Edwards announced this new executive order as the number of hospitalizations decreased and more people receive the vaccine. However, Jackson said there are still too many people who are at risk to catch the virus.
“It’s hard for us to gauge how many people would come at one time. And not knowing the percentage of folks who are apart of our congregation who’ve been vaccinated,” Jackson said.
He talked about the challenges of preaching to nearly 1,200 people on an average Sunday in person compared to now, when services are streamed live.
“I’m accustomed to people being there and it is a dialogical experience, you know, you talk people and people talk back, those kinds of things. So when you remove the people it becomes a monological experience.”
Jackson said he has noticed the church’s offerings have increased for some months during the pandemic.
“We’ve seen months during this process where we have either been equal to the previous year, or in some cases, there have been months that have been greater in 2020 than in 2019,” he said.
“In the absence of gathering, the church has still been the church in the community, which means we have become an investable institution to many people.”
The church has partnered with Ochsner LSU Health to make sure resources and access to the vaccine won’t be a problem in the coming weeks.
In his ministry, Jackson stresses the church’s need to be three-dimensional. He said, “We preach, we teach, but we also have to be concerned about the health of our people.”
Jackson is uncertain when the church will reopen, but the health and safety of his congregation comes first, he said. “The real answer is I wish it was like yesterday,” but, he added the truth is that he doesn’t “know how we would live with ourselves,” if the church rushed to open and people got infected with the virus.
Jackson said the church will continue to monitor the number of cases and vaccinations during summer months, and come up with a decision based on that information.