TENNESSEE (WATE) – Tennessee Valley District of Holston Conference United Methodist announced Saturday that churches in Knox, Anderson and Claiborne counties have been closed due to continued increases in COVID-19 cases.

Jason Gattis from the Smoky Mountain District of the Holston Conference says they have decided to close churches in Sevier County as well.

“With cases going up the way they have, the conference and the bishop and the cabinet decided it’s best to close churches in Knox County and Sevier County at this time. Nobody, especially us as pastors, wants to see our houses of worship being closed so this is a very difficult decision that we have to make.” Gattis said.

Some churches had already resumed in-person services, others were gearing up for a reopening. Concord United Methodist Church was set to resume in-person services July 12, but after seeing an increase in COVID-10 cases in Knox County, decided against it.

Senior Pastor Larry Trotter says they had an entire plan in place, including an online check-in system to track the number of visitors planning to come to a service, socially distanced assigned seating, and a sanitation team.

“We noticed that the case numbers in Knox County were starting to head up at a pretty good clip and we determined that there was no point in taking those kinds of risks just to be open for in personal worship,” Trotter said.

A short time after making that decision, Pastor Trotter got a call he says he was expecting. The district superintendent called to tell him they were suspending in-person services.

Trotter says he thinks waiting is a good thing to protect congregants and the rest of the pubic.

“I think it just makes sense. I’m glad to see us responding to the reality and not becoming part of the problem,” Trotter said.

All in-person services have been cancelled, this includes small groups, outside and drive-in services.

Closures will be re-evaluated on July 27.