When Dequan Williams moved to Indianapolis from Gary in May 2020, he quickly began looking for a new church. With every church holding virtual services in the wake of COVID-19, it was easy to “try out” a new house of worship from his living room every Sunday. While Williams found several Baptist churches he would like to attend in person, he isn’t quite ready to be around large groups of people again.
“I’m not a real trusting person,” Williams said. “Like I don’t trust that the people walking around without masks on are actually vaccinated, and I’m high-risk if I got COVID. The pandemic is still going on and too many people think they don’t need a shot because God’s got them.”
Despite being widely available and free, only 48% of Marion County residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The Indiana State Department of Health estimates that roughly 418 Marion County residents are diagnosed with the virus every day. With this in mind, many churches are taking steps to keep congregants safe as they worship.
Dr. Lionel Rush, pastor of Greater Anointing Fellowship Church of God in Christ and president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Greater Indianapolis, said his church has remained virtual since May 2020. While he’s attended a few services at other churches, Rush said he doesn’t feel we’re “out of the woods” yet and foresees his church remaining virtual throughout the rest of this year.
“People need to wear masks and get shots in arms if we want to be able to safely worship in person,” Rush said. While he said, as an African American, he’s empathetic to fears regarding medical professionals, he said trusting science — and by extension trusting God — is the best way to keep congregants safe.
For any person of faith opting out of the vaccine for religious reasons, Rush quoted Protestant Reformation leader Martin Luther, who wrote during the bubonic plague:
“Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify their air, administer medicine and take it.”
While Rush would prefer to see members of his church in person every week, he said there have been some silver linings in virtual services. Like Williams, many people have been able to find the church that’s right for them by simply logging into Facebook or YouTube.
“Churches have been able to recruit more people in the last year than the last 14 because they’re not just speaking to people for an hour a week,” Rush said. “People are able to tune in or watch the videos wherever they are throughout the week.”
Ruben McKenzie, pastor of New Mission Church, streamed services on Facebook and said church attendance has grown as a result. Other churches, such as Living Word Baptist Church, continue to offer online components to services, including Bible studies.
“It’s made us creative,” Rush said of the pandemic. “But this virus is still wreaking havoc, and we need to do what we can to end it. It starts with wearing a mask, getting shots in arms and doing what we can so we can get back to normal.”
Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.