Chatham churches initially a mixed bag on COVID-19 response, but many move to cancel

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When N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper encouraged the cancellation of all gatherings of 100 people or more due to the spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, one community that had to respond was churches.

And in Chatham, those responses were been quite mixed. Even the county’s United Methodist churches weren’t in unison.

But Gov. Roy Cooper’s Saturday afternoon proclamation that all gatherings of more than 100 people were to be prohibited changed some things.

On one hand, Pittsboro’s The Local Church, Hickory Mountain UMC and Pittsboro UMC canceled all face-to-face gatherings, including Sunday worship, for two weeks. It was the same guidance issued by Bishop Hope Morgan Ward, the leader of the North Carolina Conference of the UMC.

Sara Beth Pannell, the pastor of Pittsboro UMC, said Thursday in a Facebook post that the recommendation of “social distancing” — keeping a distance from others to avoid the spread of disease — was a good basis to suspend services.

“So much has rapidly changed this week across our country and within our own state in regards to the COVID-19 pandemic,” she wrote. “As we navigate these days together, we continue to hold one another in prayer and seek ways to faithfully live as the Body of Christ. Our church leadership and I are working on providing ways for our church family to stay connected during this unprecedented time.”

On the other hand, Pastor Lucas Nelson of Goldston UMC said the church was taking precautions and encouraging those who “are not feeling well in any way” to not come, but services would proceed as normal.

“We as human beings were created to be together,” Nelson wrote before the weekend. “God saw that it was not good for man to be alone, so the Lord gave him a companion. While I agree with scientists and medical professional when they say that the easiest way to stop the spread of this virus is for ‘social distancing.’ I also worry the impact that this might have on the psyche and overall well-being of humanity.”

Community Baptist Church, similar to Goldston UMC, is continuing to hold all services, with a statement on the church’s Facebook page saying it wanted to “balance ministry along with any recommendations from government officials.” Attendees were encouraged to not shake hands or hug, but to still come to church.

“While we are to take precautions, we also should have a sound mind and not allow fear to rule our hearts,” the post stated.

But that decision was overturned by the Governor’s executive order, as a Saturday night post indicated.

“As the local church, we want to always, first and foremost, honor the Lord Jesus and obey Scripture,” the post said, citing a command by “Scripture to honor those that have rule over us” and a desire to do “what is best for the congregation as a whole” when it came to health.

Reporter Zachary Horner can be reached at zhorner@chathamnr.com

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