Note: This story was updated on Tuesday, March 17, 2020 at 10:58 a.m.
ALBUQUERQUE (BNM) - As the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues to spread across the United States, many organizations, including churches, are taking measures to curb its spread, calm the public and adjust to a new way of life for the indefinite future.
Over the past several days, many Baptist Convention of New Mexico affiliated churches have released statements to their congregations, while some canceled Sunday worship services on March 15.
At least six BCNM churches canceled in-person services on March 15, including Sagebrush Church, the convention’s largest congregation. Carlisle Community Church, Albuquerque; Christ Church, Albuquerque; Rio Church, Albuquerque; Calvary Baptist Church, Las Cruces; and Real Life Church, Las Cruces also canceled in-person services, but hosted digital services on Facebook, YouTube and other platforms.
At least three churches, which hold multiple services, chose to meet in person, but opted for a single service. Those churches were: First Baptist Church, Roswell; Taylor Memorial Baptist Church, Hobbs; and Paragon Church, Rio Rancho.
In an effort to mitigate risk, Vertical Church, Albuquerque, which normally meets in a movie theater, moved their Sunday service to a commercial building across the parking lot from their church offices. Several other churches canceled some variation of Sunday school, Children’s classes, and Sunday evening activities.
Most BCNM churches chose to meet regularly, while implementing extra cleaning protocols and guidance on social interactions. Several churches offered the option of viewing a livestream of their service for individuals who were not comfortable or well enough to attend services.
First Baptist Church, Albuquerque, released a statement on March 12. In the statement, the church noted that it would maintain regularly scheduled services on Sunday, March 15. The statement also encouraged individuals to exercise caution and stay home if they or a family member was feeling ill or has a chronic medical condition.
Sandia Baptist Church, Albuquerque, released a statement March 12, which listed various precautions Sandia’s custodial staff is currently taking, including wiping door handles and surfaces with disinfectant. In the statement, Sandia’s pastoral staff recommended members and guests stay home if they are “running a fever or showing other signs of illness.” Additionally, groups external to Sandia will not be permitted to meet in the church’s senior adult wing.
In a March 12 statement, First Baptist Church, Bloomfield, said, “As a church we are doing everything we can to help ensure that all those who come through the doors of FBC Bloomfield stay healthy. We have custodial staff that clean and sanitize our facilities throughout the week. Also, the rest of our staff, as well as other church members, step up and step in to take care of irregular cleaning needs that may come up. Hand sanitizing stations are placed throughout our facilities to help stop the spread of illness, as well.”
In a March 12 statement released on Facebook, First Baptist Church, Moriarty’s pastor, Johnny Spicer, said, “At this time your staff and leadership team are continuing to meet and evaluate the situation. We want to help provide an environment for you to worship our Lord. We want to encourage you to make use of the hand sanitizers that are placed throughout the church building. We want to discourage you from shaking hands. However, we continue to encourage you to welcome guests and visitors with kind words and a warm smile. We encourage you to stay home if you feel sick, have not been fever free for 24 hours, or if you have severe underlying health conditions and are greatly concerned about coronavirus.” Spicer also said that church leadership will “use wisdom and prudence should the need arise to change our structure for meeting together.”
Taylor Memorial Baptist Church, Hobbs released a statement on March 13, which stated, in part, “While we are not canceling [worship services], we are going to adjust our schedule through the month of March due to the health concern combined with the scheduling of spring break. Therefore, on the Sundays of March 15th, 22nd, and 29th, we will only have our 11 o’clock service. As we continue to meet, we are aware that certain demographics of our congregation are more susceptible to the health threat and therefore will choose to stay home. Consequently, to be the best stewards of the provisions God has given us in regard to volunteer personnel and funds, we feel it is the wisest course of action to only have Sunday School and the one service for the remaining Sundays in March. (For those that choose to stay home, we will live stream the 11 o’clock service on Facebook.) At this point we will return to the two service format on April 5th.”
On March 12, the New Mexico Public Education Department announced that all New Mexico public schools would be closed for three weeks, beginning on Monday, March 16. Several BCNM churches meet in schools, including Rio Church, Albuquerque, which meets at Reginald Chavez Elementary School. In a statement released March 13, the church announced that it had canceled its March 15 in-person worship services. Instead, Rio offered a pre-recorded service on its website and YouTube.
On Sunday, March 15, the Center for Disease Control recommended Americans limit social gatherings to no more than 50 people. The following day, March 16, President Trump announced new guidelines aimed at controlling the spread of COVID-19. One aspect of the guidelines encourages Americans to limit social gatherings to no more than ten people.
The Baptist New Mexican will continue to monitor church responses to COVID-19. To report an update on your church’s response, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Note: This is a developing story and it will be updated as more information becomes available. Information in this article is current as of Tuesday, March 17, 2020 at 10:58 a.m.