Churches have always been a place of refuge for believers of all denominations but with the continued spread of the coronavirus, churches worldwide have closed their doors -- including in the Charlotte area.
Many that have the capability have turned to the internet to live stream or run recorded services for church members. Rev. Dr. Jerry Cannon is a member of Mecklenburg Ministries and senior pastor of CN Jenkins Memorial Presbyterian Church on Statesville Avenue. He says some initially hesitated to move to online services but joined the trend as the virus has spread and stay-at-home orders have been issued.
Last month, Cannon’s church and other houses of worship began using the internet for Bible study sessions and regular services.
Rev. Dr. Jerry Cannon: We record two services on Sunday morning. We did that on the fourth and fifth Sunday. On this coming Sunday, we will be going live on YouTube and Facebook and also recording and then we'll upload the service to YouTube for persons who didn't catch it at 9 a.m. and they can watch it at their leisure.
Gwendolyn Glenn: Now, are you in the church or are you at your home when you're doing your services?
Rev. Cannon: We're at the church. Four musicians, an AV person and myself; so six -- and we practice social distancing. Even the musicians have a regulated space between them.
Glenn: And why did you decide to have musicians, as well? Because that would cut down on the risk.
Rev. Cannon: We're trying to make sure that we give our congregation as close of a simulation of the services they would normally experience on Sunday morning. The music is a part of the rhythm of our service.
Glenn: And how are people responding to the sermons that have been available on the internet?
Rev. Cannon: I would say favorably. We've got some kinks to work out. And the best part about it is that because it is recorded, persons can listen to the services multiple times.
Glenn: As a member of Mecklenburg Ministries, what are you hearing from other pastors in terms of how they are conducting their services? Are most going digital online?
Rev. Cannon: Yes, they are. And some are doing the Facebook posts from their homes. Some have the capability of recording and uploading their services from their sanctuaries. So nobody has completely closed down.
Glenn: And what about you? How does it affect you not to have your congregation in front of you who often are giving that call and response? How does it affect your message?
Rev. Cannon: It's caused me to change to a different cadence in preaching. I constantly -- for 28 years here in Charlotte and 32 years of total ministry -- have preached with a rhythm for call and response to a live audience. And so my eye contact, my body language is a part of communicating the message. Whereas now I’m called to look at the camera. And I am actually at a learning curve and being coached by some pastors who've done this for years.
Glenn: How are you doing in terms of what methods are you using for collecting offerings?
Rev. Cannon: Yes, offerings are done electronically through our web page, through an app, our church app, Text To Give, and through the mail.
Glenn: Are they about the same as they were? Because I've heard some churches saying that their offerings have gone down significantly.
Rev. Cannon: Yes, they have. Offerings have gone down significantly. I would say at least between 30-45%, primarily because that was a part of worship that you brought your offering to church. But this is a new phenomenon. We have to deal, I'm sure, with the anxiousness of employment and income. And as persons have been downsized and furloughed, that has affected the offerings.
Glenn: And do you think that this might mean some churches will not make it?
Rev. Cannon: All churches, administrative boards are going to have to really evaluate and see where can we continue some of the ministries. How can we maintain staff? What does it mean for us to move into this new normal? A different time all around.
Glenn: And Good Friday and Easter are coming up. Most churches have Good Friday services. And then also Easter is one of the times when churches are packed. What are your plans? How do you plan to handle Good Friday's services and Easter?
Rev. Cannon: Yes. Next week we'll have our prayer call-in line at 7 a.m. Monday through Friday. But because it is Holy Week, we will have it each day for Easter services. Our plan is again to go live at 9 o'clock on Easter Sunday morning with service, with music, with the sermon, and we'll celebrate the resurrection by way of virtual worship.
Glenn: What are you hearing from other churches? Are any of them doing anything differently or they're doing about the same as you are?
Rev. Cannon: Well, I did hear some questions about this weekend being Palm Sunday. Are you providing palms that people can drive by the church and pick up? Are you providing communion that people can drive by and pick up? And we've decided not to do those really to be in compliance with the stay-at-home.
Glenn: Anything you'd like to add that I haven't asked you?
Rev. Cannon: The coronavirus has really pushed church and (the) church world to raise the question of how do we reintroduce ourselves to the community once we move away from a stay-at-home. How does the church become the community as opposed to the community coming to the church? I think the new normal is going to push the institution of the church to really evaluate itself. And the one question that I'm asking our leaders to grapple and pray over would be what will the community say about us this time next year?
Glenn: That’s the Rev. Dr. Jerry Cannon, senior pastor of CN Jenkins Memorial Presbyterian Church in Charlotte.