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The First Baptist Church of Pikeville broadcasts its Sunday services through its public Facebook page, via Facebook Live, on March 15. Local faith leaders have turned to the internet to reach their congregations after all mass gatherings were banned statewide to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Although in-person church services cannot be held for several weeks, local faith leaders across Pike County are reaching their congregations through different means — the Web — in order to provide hope through a pandemic.

Gov. Andy Beshear ordered that all public-facing facilities, like church buildings, be closed to the public earlier last week in order to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). This Thursday, he banned all mass gatherings, including, but not limited to, community, civic, public, leisure, faith-based or sporting events, as well as parades, concerts, festivals, conventions, fundraisers and similar activities.

“I am a person of deep faith, I am a deacon in my church and this is a hard decision,” Beshear said in a statement. “This is not a test of faith. This is something we must do to keep each other safe.”

Following these recent closures and bans of all public gatherings, local faith leaders have utilized the Web as a means to broadcast services through online platforms. The Pikeville United Methodist Church, Creekside Church, Pikeville Free Will Baptist Church, Cornerstone Christian Church, Grace Baptist Church and Connection Church, among many others, started broadcasting some or all of their Sunday worship services through their respective public Facebook pages. The Main Street Church of Christ and New Beginnings

Fellowship Church are among many others who started broadcasting their services through their respective websites.

Jason Lowe, executive pastor for First Baptist Church of Pikeville, said an average of about 400-425 people would attend services in-person every Sunday, and the church started broadcasting its Sunday services through its Facebook page on March 15 in order to continue connecting with its congregation. The recorded service on the church’s Facebook page has had about 5,900 “views,” as of presstime Friday.

Lowe is also the associational mission strategist with the Pike Association of Southern Baptists. The Pike Association of Southern Baptists includes 24 churches, with 22 located in Pike County, one located in Letcher County and one located in Floyd County.

While many churches in the Pike Association of Southern Baptists have continued their services online, Lowe said, some of the churches have stopped services entirely.

“It certainly has been unexpected for a lot of churches, let alone our culture as a whole,” Lowe said. “The churches have had to make a lot of changes to their services rather quickly. The ones in our association have had to make some adjustments. Many didn’t have services, while others are broadcasting services on Facebook Live or had the services pre-recorded. A lot of smaller churches had service on Sunday (March 15). Overall, I think they are certainly rising to the challenge.”

While services for many Pike churches may continue as normal through live broadcasts, Lowe said, the main issue that remains now is funding, as many churches throughout the county solely relied on donations and tithes to pay their bills.

Lowe advised churches to make use of three methods for collection, which include letting church members drop off donation envelopes by the church’s doors or slip them under the doors, having church members mail their donations into the church’s address or by taking advantage of online donation and payment methods.

“I certainly think they’re going to see a decrease,” Lowe said, regarding donations. “This situation is taking a toll on a lot of families financially, and churches are going to be no different. The reality is that the churches still have bills to pay, and it’s going to be more challenging depending on how long this goes for.”

Fr. Robert Adams, with the St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Pikeville, said the reality of a lack of collections and funding has been difficult for many churches, including his own.

“That’s very scary because all churches rely on charitable giving, and when not a lot of people come or give donations…no, yeah, that’s very real,” Adams said.

Adams said it is important for all faith leaders to talk to their congregations about money.

“The reality is there’s still bills that the church has to pay,” Adams said. “I think the best way to go through that is just to be honest about what’s going on. No one likes the preacher that asks for money all the time, right? But I think we have to be up front and say to our people, ‘Look, we’ve gotta talk about money.’”

On March 16, St. Francis of Assisi Parish of Pikeville announced on Facebook that Bishop John Stowe, of the Catholic Dioceses of Lexington, that all public masses in the Dioceses of Lexington, which includes the St. Francis of Assisi Parish, were suspended until further notice. Soon after, Adams began broadcasting daily masses at his home and uploading them onto the St. Francis of Assisi Parish Facebook page to help his congregation watch the services and listen to the prayers at home.

Catholics are currently in the period of Lent, a traditional period of fasting that began on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 26. Lent takes place over six weeks, ending on Easter Sunday, and is modeled after Jesus Christ’s forty-day fast in the desert.

Although many Lent practices take place at home, Adams said, one ritual the church will not be able to perform due to the suspension of its public masses are the “scrutinies,” which are special rites celebrated in the middle three Sundays of Lent. These rituals, Adams said, prepare a person for baptism, but they must be performed in person. He said it is highly unusual to not perform them during Lent.

“I feel like this is an exercise in flexibility,” Adams said. “We’re kind of creating the rulebook as we go.”

While he never considered himself “much of a streamer,” Adams said several of his friends offered to provide him help for broadcasting his masses, which he said he was grateful for. Although he said he initially felt weird performing mass during the live broadcasts in front of a camera because he knew many people were watching him online, he felt like it was important to continue the services, even if he might mess up or make minor mistakes while adjusting to the new set-up.

“If something is worth doing, then it’s worth doing badly,” Adams said. “The main thing I’ve heard is people just being grateful that we aren’t meeting in person. We hold daily mass, that’s kind of our thing, and when we’ve been doing the services online, some people said it’s just been comforting for them to hear the prayers while doing it at home.”

Adams said he believed this situation will likely affect all churches for a long time, and it is important for the churches to continue their work, despite not being able to meet in person.

“I think what’s going to define the church for the next 50 years is how we handle this,” Adams said. “Our role is to provide the gospel, but the church has to be there to remind people that Jesus hasn’t gone away. We still need to be in touch with our people and find ways to show them that Christ is here.”

On March 11, the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) a global pandemic. There have been 47 cases confirmed in Kentucky, as of presstime Friday, but no cases have been confirmed in Pike County.

For the full list of Gov. Andy Beshear’s actions to address the spread of COVID-19, visit, governor.ky.gov/covid19.

For all up-to-date information on COVID-19, visit the CDC’s website at, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/.

The Pike County Health Department is located at 119 River Drive, and it can be reached at, (606) 437-5500, or online at, https://www.pikecountyhealth.com/v4i/.

Kentuckians can call the state’s COVID-19 hotline, 1-(800)722-5725, for questions or additional help.

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