Southwest Florida churches prepare for in-person services

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LABELLE–While several Southwest Florida churches are optimistic about their recent on-campus services, others in the region are making final preparations to launch their first in-person services since March.

By removing every other row of chairs from its sanctuary to adhere to social distancing guidelines, Caloosa Baptist Church in LaBelle was able to worship together again on Sunday, May 17. The church also created an overflow room in their fellowship hall to accommodate visitors.

James Hunt, senior pastor at Caloosa said the key to their plan was to keep social distances while at the same time being together as a church family.

In preparation for the church’s May 31 reopening, First Baptist Church in Palmetto initiated phase two of their plan which includes adding “five smaller, shorter, worship services on campus…with each service limited to 25 percent capacity,” said Phillip Hamm, senior pastor at Palmetto.

Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon is anticipating a great showing across their five campuses as they celebrate their “#TogetherAgain” service on June 7. To follow social distancing guidelines and stay at a 50 percent capacity, the church asked members to register online for the service time and location they plan to attend.

“We have been working with our state and local leaders to ensure that we are in the clear for in-person gatherings and thankfully everyone is on the same page,” said Corey Abney, pastor at Bell Shoals.

Both Sarasota Baptist Church and Calvary Church, with campuses in Clearwater, Seminole and Tarpon Springs, will launch their on-campus services the first weekend in June.

West Bradenton Baptist Church has a target date of mid-June to reopen their campus for in-person worship. The church said Sunday June 14 and Sunday June 21 will serve as a “soft launch” to gauge how many people will be in attendance before progressing to the next phase.

“Picking a reopening date was a challenge,” said West Bradenton’s lead pastor Sam Rainer. “Desiring to minimize frustration, awkwardness and confusion and maximize energy and excitement, we planned and prayed as a staff and really felt like the middle of June gave us enough time to plan well while at the same time taking into consideration the physical health of our congregation.”

Rainer also noted that worship services will be no longer than 45 minutes to thoroughly clean and disinfect between each service. To eliminate touching multiple surfaces and items, the church will implement several minor changes such as secure offering boxes, removing pew Bibles and discontinuing bulletins.

“To keep everyone healthy, we are sanitizing our building, cleaning surfaces throughout each Sunday morning, and we are asking members to practice social distancing,” he added.

There is no doubt that Southwest Florida pastors are enthusiastic about reopening their campuses and get back to doing what they love the most – preaching and sharing the Word.

During a recent videoconference call with pastors, Wayne Briant, Florida Baptists’ Southwest regional catalyst, encouraged pastors to continue to press on in the midst of unprecedented times and not lose their zeal for sharing the gospel.

“One thing we don’t want to do is lose our evangelistic focus,” said Briant. “There are still lost people out there.”

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