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Cheyenne churches reopen amidst state health mandate rollbacks

(KGWN)
Published: May. 24, 2020 at 4:54 PM CDT
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Churches are opening their doors once again, but they're now doing so with certain restrictions in place to keep people safe.

With social distancing guidelines in effect, many churches were forced to close during March and April.

However, that didn't stop Meadowbrooke Church, which implemented digital services so that members could attend from the safety of home.

"For me and the staff, we looked at this as almost a blessing, that God was taking us through our season to teach us what it meant to be the church," says Keith Miller, the church's lead pastor. "We don't need to be in a building to be the church."

Despite this, Miller was planning how to reopen well before the governor's recent address.

"We've actually developed a plan about three to four weeks ago, submitted it to the county, and they approved it," he says. "We made some tweaks to it, and the folks at Meadowbrooke have really responded well to it."

Miller sent his three-page plan to Laramie County Emergency Management, an agency that helped the church through the approval process to get it set up for reopening.

Even though the church is allowing its congregation to return, many of its usual activities are still on hold.

"We don't have our children's ministry functioning right now; we probably won't do that until later down the road when we get the green light from the county," he says. "Some of the other things that have changed is we're not passing plates -- we're trying to minimize any kind of contact -- communion, those kinds of things."

The church is also promoting social distancing, keeping the seating in the church's nave arranged such that families can stick together while also allowing individuals to spread apart.

In addition, workers with the church wear face masks and gloves to prevent potential transmission of COVID-19.

While physical attendance is still less than what it was prior to the pandemic, Miller says incoming tithes and donations have been just as strong as ever.

"We have not seen it affect our givings in a negative way; if anything, it's actually increased," he says. "We opened up a food pantry that was functioning for most of the quarantine time. We were able to bless our first responders with gift cards to Sanford's [Grub & Pub]."

Before reopening, Miller had gone in for testing for COVID-19 to check whether he had been infected.

While results for the virus came back negative, it was confirmed by Stitches Acute Care Center that he was positive for antibodies, signaling he had been infected already.

He announced the news to his congregation via Facebook last Thursday.

He notes that this occurred in either January or February, before concerns about the pandemic became mainstream, after his wife flew from Myanmar using Air China.

"When I look back, I was sick for a month. A number of people in the church got sick with similar respiratory things," he says. "We had one kid that was in the hospital. He was on oxygen. And this was before we knew that COVID was a real threat."

According to Miller, all members of the congregation who were sick during this time recovered.

The Cheyenne Brethren Church also reopened last weekend, though the number of members in attendance was much fewer.

The church is acting much in the same way as Meadowbrooke, with child care services being put on hold and greeters asking members to put on a face mask upon entering the building.

"Basically, we had to do all the things that the governor and the county suggested," says Emery Hurd, Cheyenne Brethren Church's lead pastor. "So, we make sure our people are sitting separate, they're recommended to wear masks, we have hand sanitizer stations."

With social distancing in effect, the church has restricted certain pews from use and is asking visitors to sit apart.

While attendance is not yet at capacity -- even with social distancing in place -- the church has overflow accommodations ready just in case.

In the event that capacity is reached, the church will split the congregation between the upstairs nave and the church's lower level, which will have remote viewing so that members may still participate.

Hurd says that the news about having to shut down "frustrated" much of the church's congregation, while others were "supportive."

"It was a very wide range of reactions," he says. "Our church's job was to listen to their opinions and validate their feelings while still recognizing that, since this was for public safety, we needed to be sensitive to those needs and respond to them appropriately."

In doing so, the church created its own digital services program to allow the congregation to view services from home -- something that Hurd attributes to for the stability of incoming donations.

"Many of our people have been very, very faithful," he says. "And so, our givings have actually increased since we closed, because more people are watching us online now, and because of that they see the ministry, and they've been supportive. So, our givings have been stable if not a little increased."

Hurd considers their reopening thus far a success and says he feels confident about the church's future going forward.

"I'm pretty optimistic. I think this week, then probably some kind of new orders will be coming out next week," he says. "So next week, we'll be a little bit freer and then a little bit freer. And then probably in the next week or months get back to something that looks something like normal."

Governor Gordon is expected to give another update on public health mandates within the coming week.

Current policies are set to end May 31.

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