PHOENIX (BP) — As COVID-19 surges are causing several mayors and governors to pause or backtrack reopening schedules, several churches in hard-hit states are returning to online-only worship.
In Arizona, churches are not included in Gov. Douglas Ducey’s executive order limiting gatherings to 50 people or fewer, but many churches there are returning to or extending online-only worship during the COVID-19 surge, said David Johnson, executive director of the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention.
Among those are North Swan Baptist Church in Tucson, whose senior pastor Gary Marquez died late Sunday (July 5) after a weeklong battle with COVID-19, the church announced early Monday.
“I’d say this second surge has really hit churches harder than the first one,” Johnson said Monday (July 6). “Even the pastors I spoke with this morning … they were both saying ‘Wow, back to online, empty auditorium.’ It’s very difficult to go back, once you felt like maybe we were back on a path to being a little bit more normal.
“I know of five churches that have decided to do that. That’s not, certainly, all of them, but that’s a pretty good representation of churches that have gone back to online only.”
In the Texas hotspot of Houston, where Mayor Sylvester Turner has asked churches to voluntarily return to online-only worship, at least three Southern Baptist congregations are doing so, including First Baptist Church and Sagemont Church. Woodlands Church, a multisite church with a primary campus just north of Houston in The Woodlands, is also returning to online-only. Likewise in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Hunters Glen in Plano is reverting to online-only.
Arizona and Texas are among the states experiencing the highest surges in positive cases, although such surges have been seen in about half of the nation since late June, according to news reports.
Johnson knows of at least five churches that are returning to online-only worship, and some others are delaying a return to in-person gatherings. The setback is particularly disappointing to pastors who were beginning to feel that normalcy was returning, he said.
In addition to North Swan, other Arizona churches temporarily ceasing onsite worship include Cross Church in Surprise and 22nd Street Baptist Church in Tucson, Johnson said.
North Swan announced the death of their pastor, Gary Marquez, early Monday.
“Dear church family, our Blessed Savior took Pastor Gary home early this morning,” the church said on its Facebook page. “We thank you for all your prayers. He has been healed in heaven.”
Gary Marquez’s son, North Swan Executive Pastor Andrew Marquez, had announced only Sunday a return to online-only worship until the end of July, citing the surge in COVID-19 cases in Arizona, his father’s health and Ducey’s executive order.
“That order does not necessarily apply to churches, but because of the spikes in Arizona and the desire to keep congregating in groups of larger than 10 down, we’re going to go ahead and go back to online worship for the rest of the month,” Andrew Marquez said, “unless some good news changes and the order is lifted and we move to the next level.” He recounted his father’s COVID-19 illness, which doctors fought with remdesivir, a blood transfusion with COVID-19 antibodies, a ventilator and kidney dialysis.
A notice on North Swan’s church website said members of the church leadership had been exposed to COVID-19.
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Source: Christian Post