KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — While Knox County businesses like retail stores, beauty services and restaurants prepare to reopen after closing due to COVID-19, some churches are also preparing to reopen with in-person services.

According to the Knox County Health Department’s guidelines for churches to reopen, church members can meet in person, but capacity must be limited to 50% and members not from the same household must stay six feet apart.

Only core worship services are allowed during phase one of the plan.

Kent Bateman, a pastor at City Church of Knoxville, said that although churches are allowed to open Sunday, his church won’t.

“A lot of what we are doing in waiting, at least for the time being to do any type of, you know, formal Sunday service, is because we want to do that, we want to love our neighbors well. We don’t want to contribute to more people getting sick, more people dying in our city. That’s not a good thing for this society that we’re a part of, so we want to do everything we can to join in that fight,” Bateman said.

Bateman said there are a few reasons why his church won’t meet in person during phase one for a few reasons on top of the safety aspect.

One of those reasons is singing.

According to the guidelines, singing is ‘discouraged’ because “it is thought to be an activity that expels significantly more virus than talking.”

“Getting together without singing, while it still can be meaningful, it’s certainly is missing some of, you know, what makes gathering with God’s people so important to us,” Bateman said.

He said they also thought that singing with masks on would be pretty difficult, albeit, probably fun to watch.

Bateman said that when the church does offer in person services again, those attending would have to wear masks.

He said if someone doesn’t have a mask, the church would provide a disposable one for them.

Bateman said they ordered some masks, but they were back-ordered until mid-May.

City Church would also look differently, set up wise, according to Bateman. They would move seats around so members were sitting at least six feet apart.

The church also has rooms and hallways where members tend to gather, so those would have to be monitored or blocked off, Bateman said.

Bateman said they would take out the community bibles, because it would be difficult to wipe all of them down in between services.

They would also cancel normal Sunday social times, such as pre-service coffee.

“It’s not really wise to have a bunch of different people all pressing the same coffee, utensils, and dispensers and all that. So, we’ll basically just have to eliminate our coffee pre-gatherings,” Bateman said.

While singing would be very hard for a church to not do, Bateman said no hugging or shaking hands would also be a difficult task for their members.

“There’s something about waiving to somebody, or like touching elbows with somebody is just significantly less meaningful than being able to give somebody a hug, you know, or shake somebody’s hand,” Bateman said.

Bateman said that City Church will continue to offer online services for the time being.

Several other churches around Knoxville told 6 On Your Side that they also planned to not reopen Sunday.

Bishop Richard Stika, of the Diocese of Knoxville, said he was working with diocesan pastors, priests, and health care experts to consider ways to implement the safety guidelines and mandates recently issued by public health authorities.

“I understand how much our parishioners want to return to their churches, see their priests, and once again have a personal connection with the sacraments. However, there are steps we need to take to ensure that we can do this safely,” Bishop Stika said.
“I realize that some businesses and churches may open their doors sooner, but we have 51 parishes and mission churches in our diocese, which covers all of East Tennessee. I feel it is necessary to carefully review the state, county, and municipal guidelines that have been issued, some as recently as this week. It is my hope that by the Solemnity of Pentecost, which we celebrate as the day the Holy Spirit came to the Apostles, and the day our Church began, we can, in some fashion, return to public Masses in our diocese.”

Bishop Richard Stika

Stika is hopeful to reopen churches by Pentecost weekend, which is May 30-31.