SALEM / LYNCHBURG, Va. (WFXR) — Despite Virginia Governor Ralph Northam allowing churches and certain businesses to reopen, with restrictions, a number of pastors say they will continue to hold church virtually.

“We don’t feel like it’s safe yet,” said Pastor for Peakland United Methodist, Dr. John Vest.

Some of the requirements in Phase One of Forward Virginia include keeping seating at 50% capacity, having congregation members sit six feet apart, encouraging masks or face coverings, and not exchanging items like Bibles or pencils.

Mandatory Requirements for Churches Holding In-Person Services During Phase One.

Vest says these guidelines take away from an important aspect of in-person worship.

“Church is always social,” Vest said, “and we don’t feel like we can provide the protection that people need to be here.”

“This is a relational hub. That’s what church is, to have a relationship with other people,” said CommUNITY Church Pastor Tom McCracken.

McCracken is taking his church’s reopening in phases of his own, starting with a trial service at the end of the month.

“Everything will be touchless,” McCracken said. “You won’t have to worry about the doors, hand sanitizer will be everywhere. No bulletin, it will be on the screen. No offering plate passed around. No choir. No small groups. That Phase One is going to be very cautious.”

McCracken hopes to have these requirements from Phase One down to a science with these trials. For both churches, it’s going to be a few weeks before the pews have anyone sitting in them.

“It’s something that we really need to take intentionally and, again, cautiously as we make this transition,” McCracken said.

“They want to get together,” said Vest. “They understand that this is the safest and best thing to do, so we really apprecaite the grace and the understanding.”

Dr. Vest said Peakland UMC will consider reopening in Phase Two. If not then, they will definitely reopen in Phase Three.

McCracken is has been asking for volunteers amongst his congregation for these trial services as CommUNITY church adjusts to the new guidelines.

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