MSDH issues last-minute guidelines for worship services ahead of Easter Sunday

Updated: Mar. 31, 2021 at 10:41 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - While Mississippi’s average coronavirus cases remain at nine-month lows, state health leaders are concerned about the possibility of COVID-19 outbreaks during this weekend’s Easter services.

Last-minute guidelines for Easter services released by the Mississippi State Department of Health have some churches adjusting their requirements to make sure their congregations feel safe.

The recommendations, released Monday, state the safest options for worship during the pandemic are virtual or outdoor services.

Should Mississippians attend in-person services, MSDH recommends all congregants wear a face mask at all times.

The guidelines also state people over 65 or those with chronic conditions who have not been fully vaccinated should not attend in-person services.

State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs told fellow doctors last week that he knows some people still aren’t going to adhere to these guidelines.

“I know that a lot of people aren’t gonna wear masks in church, because I see it. When I drive by Sunday morning, I see a lot of people walk out of church, and there’s not a mask on them,” Dobbs said Friday.

Not everybody agrees with these measures, which makes a church leader’s job even more complicated.

“They find themselves caught in the crossfire of these two sides of the issue. And our pastors, I think, have done a great job of trying to navigate that and avoid recklessness and, and give due regard to safety, while at the same time keeping their church together,” said Shawn Parker, executive director of the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.

Parker said many churches are adding extra Easter services to allow for more people to attend with social distancing still in place. Others changed their venue entirely.

First Baptist Jackson will hold its Easter Sunday sunrise service at the Mississippi Agricultural Museum to better accommodate parishioners safely.

“It’s been a really tough season for many over the past year and while there have been great strides made through vaccination and other measures, it is still a work in progress,” Michael Bowen, spokesperson for the church, said in a statement to WLBT. “We think the Ag Museum grounds provide a central location for metro Jackson residents to gather safely and celebrate Easter together.”

Broadmoor Baptist Church spokesperson Pepper Carter said they established a reservation system for all four services planned for Easter weekend. Carter said they’re also including an “open seating” section for those comfortable with that.

Masks will be required and socially-distanced sections will be available, she said.

Many churches will also still allow congregational singing, even though MSDH guidelines call that a “high-risk activity” in the midst of a pandemic.

And some, like New Horizon Church International, will be streaming their services online to accommodate those who don’t feel comfortable worshipping in person.

“A lot of our pastors have have done a lot of funerals in the course of last year from people who have have experienced the worst cases of COVID. And so they understand perhaps better than anybody that this is a serious issue and not to be treated lightly. And I think that all of them are approaching Easter services with that in mind,” Parker said.

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