GROWING THE POST-PANDEMIC CHURCH & Churches Grapple With The Vaxxed And Unvaxxed Divide

by Blake Farmer, NPR, 5/16/21.

… Even as the most vulnerable have pretty well gotten their COVID-19 shots in Nashville, Temple Church still hasn’t returned to in-person worship services.

Many congregations in Nashville — especially those with predominantly Black members — have taken a more conservative approach to getting back together. And no government regulations are stopping them.

The Rt. Rev. Jeffrey Leath is the bishop overseeing African Methodist Episcopal churches in Tennessee and Kentucky. While many have held vaccination events for members, almost all worship — on the bishop’s recommendation — has remained virtual.

… So if A.M.E. congregations want to go back to in-person gatherings, he’s still requiring masks for everyone, no hugs or handshakes, and — critically — no maskless singing.

Relegating unvaccinated members in the balcony — or some other segregating policy — just doesn’t feel right to most church leaders. But some are willing to draw a distinction between the vaxxed and the unvaxxed.

… At Acklen Avenue Church of Christ in Nashville, preacher J.P. Conway greets members as they arrive with some instructions.

“If you’re vaccinated and you’d like to take your mask off when we sing, feel free,” he tells them, directing everyone to the church lawn. 

Conway says he never wanted anyone to feel too much pressure. But people started volunteering that they’d gotten the shot. So he began giving weekly updates in Sunday school on Zoom and then from the pulpit — like a church might do with the weekly offering.

“We were basically telling people what percentage of our church had been vaccinated every week,” he says. “So that was an indirect way of saying, ‘we think you should all do this.'”

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