West Virginia Governor Jim Justice’s statewide stay-at-home order contains several exceptions, including going to the grocery store, receiving medical attention, and going to and from a place of worship.
Even though residents are allowed to attend religious services in the state, most churches have suspended services for the safety of their congregants. These churches are now turning to alternative forms of sermon delivery.
Some churches are holding drive-in services, where members stay in their cars and listen to the sermon broadcast from the parking lot. Others are live-streaming services on Facebook.
Lonna Asmus goes to Mount Jackson Baptist Church in Athens. She says her church has been broadcasting to Facebook, but it’s not the same as regular church.
“You’re not sitting next to somebody in your pew, waving to them or smiling, talking to them before or after church,” Asmus said. “It’s hard, but we’re glad that we do have that option.”
Online services are not an option for everyone, though. Thousands of West Virginians do not have regular internet access in their homes, leaving many without any contact from their churches.
David Moore is the pastor of Orient Hill Baptist Church in Greenbrier County. He has been holding services on a Facebook page that did not exist until March. He thinks many of his congregants may not have access to technology necessary to hear the sermons.
“We are from a different generation,” Moore said. “We are not texters. They don’t even have internet. So half the congregation don’t even get to see or hear what little we’re doing on Facebook.”
Moore says he likely isn’t reaching everyone in his congregation, specifically the older members who need the in-person connection the church provides.
“Many of their friends and family have already died,” he said. “And so they depend on the social interaction of the church.”
A five-minute drive up the road from Orient Hill puts you in Quinwood, where Chad Rodes preaches at the First Baptist Church. He is seeing similar concerns in his own congregation.
“Many of them also don’t have a lot of outside contact in a regular week,” Rodes said. “It’s important for us to give them a phone call, send them a message for those that are on Messenger or text, and just to check on them to let them know we’re thinking of them and we’re concerned for them.”
Moore says this time of social distancing has given him a greater appreciation for communal worship. He hopes that appreciation spreads.
“You’ll never appreciate something until you’ve lost it,” Moore said. “And not being able to have that social interaction with your church family, you realize how important it is for you to cope with the stresses of daily life.”
Until in-person church services resume, Moore and Rodes suggest calling your elderly friends and family members to check-in and offer some encouragement.
Kayla Starcher is a journalism student at West Virginia University.