GREATER LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) — President Donald Trump is encouraging churches to re-open amid the pandemic. On Friday, he announced that churches will now be considered an "essential service."
Church leaders in Greater Lafayette say re-opening will depend on what's best for their congregation.
"In regards to the president's comments, our churches have already been open to those who are worshipping, and we've trusted our faith leaders to make sure that those who are worshipping are properly distanced and that the sanitation levels are accommodating those healthy and safe environments," said Governor Eric Holcomb in a Friday press conference covering the state's coronavirus update.
Church leaders in Indiana have the freedom to choose if and when they want to re-open. They are, however, required to have safety and sanitation methods in place and they must enforce social distancing. In Greater Lafayette, pastors are looking to their population to make their decisions.
"We are definitely a church that's a little bit older and so we have to be worried about that population," said Pastor Andrew Guthrie of First Christian Church in Lafayette.
Pastor Guthrie said a large portion of his congregation does fall into the at-risk category if they were to contract COVID-19. He's making decisions based on those members.
"We are going to continue in the set up with our sanctuary, kind of optimized for live-stream," said Guthrie. "But we are going to allow people to come, basically sit in designated seats in the sanctuary if they are not part of a vulnerable population."
First Christian will start allowing members back in the building starting Sunday, May 31.
Second Baptist Church in Lafayette Lead Pastor Charles Walter said they're looking re-opening their doors on Sunday, Jul. 5.
"We know that there are churches that have already decided to re-open, we decided to postpone that a little bit and just kind of watch and wait," said Walter. "We don't want to — I don't want to be a person that's perpetuating fear within our congregation and so we want to go ahead and open but we want to do it in a safe way, a way that everyone feels safe."
Pastor Walter's congregation also falls within an at-risk category.
"We are a diverse church so we specialize and really promote that in our church," said Walter. "But because we are a primarily African-American church, we know that this virus has disproportionately hit the African-American community very hard and so that has gone into our thinking in terms of when we're going to re-open and how it's going to look."
Innovation Church in Lafayette Pastors Billy and Mandy Holden say they serve a majority of young families.
"A majority of our population is probably under the age of 40, I think, " said Pastor Mandy.
The couple said their members are ready to get back to gathering inside the church again.
"We put out a 20-question survey just to get the temperature on everybody not just to be the leaders making all the decisions but to collectively as a church make the decision on what is safe and when it's safe," said Pastor Billy. "We got good feedback through that survey so that we can open up and not only do what's safe according to the government guidelines but also according to each and every individual."
Innovation will be opening its doors on Sunday, Jun. 7. Pastor Billy said churches, however, are not defined by a building.
"It's not just a gathering, it's not just four walls, it's us displaying God's love that he's given to us," said Pastor Billy.
These church leaders will provide social-distanced seating in their sanctuaries. Each church has also increased its stock of sanitation products for church members to easily access while inside the building. First Church and Second Baptist church go-ers will be required to wear masks during service. Innovation Pastors Billy and Mandy say for their services, wearing masks is optional. All three churches are continuing to have online-streamed services in addition to in-person Sunday services when they re-open.