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Tampa Bay churches adapt social distancing for Easter Sunday services

Posted at 6:22 PM, Apr 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-11 18:45:26-04

TAMPA, Fla. — Churches across Tampa Bay are changing the way they provide worship for Easter.

Life Family Church in Plant City has held drive-in services for the past few weekends. Sunday, they plan to continue.

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"Stay in your cars come as you are," Pastor Jack Myers described the service.

He said they follow social distancing with cars spaced 6-8 ft. apart. Windows are kept up, with a transmitter used.

He stands on a platform, while ushers, the praise team and security guards, who wear masks and gloves, are the only other ones allowed outside the cars, totaling less than 10. Ushers will hand out 1,000 Easter eggs to kids.

"It’s unusual because we’re not really supposed to meet in the buildings and things like that even though we can but we have to be wise as serpents, gentle as doves and we should try to do everything we can to obey our civil authorities as long as it’s within our constitutional rights," Myers said.

Under the governor's statewide safer-at-home order, religious services are considered essential, and gatherings are not restricted. But county leaders in both Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties have sent messages about recommended distancing guidelines to religious organizations.

Now churches are adapting in new ways.

Fellowship Baptist Church in Thonotosassa plans to hold a drive-in service for Easter.

"Our mission is way bigger than meeting on Sunday morning. We’re more than a sermon and that’s as believers we need understand that and live out our mission as followers of Christ that’s more than just a gathering although that’s very important to us," said Pastor Mike Grover.

"As a shepherd our primary goal is to keep the sheep safe. A shepherd would never take their sheep into bitter waters or poisonous grass," said Kenneth Stewart, the bishop at Tabernacle of Hope in Tampa.

He said the church feeds about 70 people a day. They've moved those services outside, spacing the line with red dots where people stand. They'll also hold a drive-in service for the first time this weekend and offer a virtual Easter egg hunt for kids.

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They'll post a picture from inside the church to social media, and kids who guess the correct number of eggs hidden will receive an electronic gift certificate.

"You know when Christ died upon the cross all hope was lost and we live in a world where fear where all hope seems to be lost. We’re hoping that Easter Sunday is a time to remind people that hope is still possible. Resurrection is still possible and life is possible right in the midst of this pandemic," Stewart said.

During the pandemic, Seminole Heights United Methodist Church is streaming services on social media.

"We had groups of leaders and musicians come to the church before this week and we filmed them keeping our distance," said Pastor Tiffania Icaza Willetts.

They had to cancel their annual Easter egg hunt, but instead are planning an Easter egg art installation on the lawn, in coordination with Tribe, who provides after school programs.

Icaza Willetts said the Easter bunny will also make an appearance, allowing for distanced photo ops. Traditionally, the church also places a cross with greenery on the front lawn for families to bring flowers and take Easter pictures.

This year, they're asking families to come throughout the week to place flowers and space it out. They've also posted a guide for families to do their own Easter sunrise service at home.

"Easter this year really has been a team effort we were able to get people to come together in safe ways to contribute to our overall worship experience," Icaza Willetts said.

While church services may be moving outside of church doors, some religious leaders are making sure their message is still heard.

"People are spiritual today no matter what denomination they are or religious background they’re looking for hope in a time of great fear and people of faith ministers can add calm to it," Myers said.

Myers said they'll continue to offer drive-in service during this time.