In the church community in Rome, Pastor Michael Faulks of Summer Hill AME Church is known as the “breakfast pastor.” That’s because, on fourth Sundays, he and his wife, Genevieve “Cookie” Faulks, prepare breakfast for church members and the general community.
However, on this past Sunday, his church — along with other churches in Rome — was closed out of an abundance of caution due to the novel coronavirus, which can cause the disease COVID-19. Instead, he conducted services via Facebook Live.
“We have to keep people safe,” Cookie Faulks said after the first virtual service. “We have an older congregation. You don’t know if you’re a carrier. It’s not a good situation we’re in right now.”
Since Pastor Faulks’ congregation is made up of older people, he felt it a no-brainer to go ahead and shut the physical doors of his church.
“The first warning was saying they were concerned about church gatherings of 100 or more,” he said. Since his church has just under 100 members, that didn’t trigger a change. “But now they’re saying 10 people or more. We needed to heed that warning.”
Other pastors also are voluntarily heeding the warning in a public health state of emergency declaration adopted by the Cave Spring City Council, Rome City Commission, and the Floyd County Commission. That ordinance closed bars, restaurants, entertainment venues and public parks to gatherings of 10 or more people.
Pastor Sidney Ford, Sr. at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church said he is excited about the use of technology, but acknowledged that it won’t feel the same as having in-person fellowship.
“I feel pretty good about it, but I feel separated from my people,” Ford said. “That’s the hard part. We don’t get to touch, we don’t get to hug, that person-to-person relationship.”
Pleasant Grove wasn’t closed last week, but only 10 people showed up for Sunday service, Ford said. He believes it’s related directly to coronavirus concerns.
“We usually have between anywhere from 65 to 75 people,” he said.
The week of March 15, while other churches experienced smaller numbers due to those concerns, Mount Olive Baptist Church had just celebrated its 122nd anniversary.
Pastor Steve Caldwell said more people showed up than expected, but they decided it best to close the doors of the church to the public as well and hold their services on Facebook Live.
“This is going to be the new normal,” Caldwell said. “We’ve always talked about the church not being the building. You can reach more people through technology.”
Most churches rely on small donations through tithes and offerings to stay afloat. They plan to move that to online as well, via the Givelify App, Cash app, and Venmo.
But it could herald for stark times as people around the community experience layoffs due to coronavirus budget cuts. Economists say the expected recession may be short-lived — but it’s unchartered territory since the downturn is starting in the service industry.
“Churches now, they’re suffering during this time,” Ford said. “When people don’t come to church, they usually don’t put into the offering tray. It’s going to affect the operation of everyday church services, or even the pastors’ salaries.”
Less participation is what Faulks saw during his virtual service. About 13 people logged into his conference call for church, and it was unclear how many logged into Facebook Live. Despite that, he says a recession doesn’t really make him nervous because he believes God will provide.
“Inflation is nothing new for a community that’s always had to struggle,” he said. “People in faith are survivors. That’s why we have faith. We look for an answer from God to be led through those things. It’s not always ideal, but we muscle through it.”