Despite not being able to have church in their sanctuaries, some pastors in Pine Bluff have not canceled Resurrection Sunday due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite not being able to have church in their sanctuaries, some pastors in Pine Bluff have not canceled Resurrection Sunday due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, they all agree that the novel coronavirus has forced them out of their comfort zones and into the homes of hundreds as the doors of their churches remain closed.
“This is obviously new, a brave new world,” said First United Methodist Church of Pine Bluff pastor Michael Morey. “I’m glad we have the option to live stream, now. I’m thankful for that, but it’s still not like being together as the body of Christ and being with people you know and people who know you, encourage you and assist you in your walk of faith.”
Before the pandemic, Morey had never live streamed his Sunday worship service before. But, with hundreds of viewers watching his messages over the past few weeks, it’s a feature he plans to keep long after the doors to his church reopen to the public.
“We’re discovering this is really a useful way to share the gospel,” he said. “We’ve had well over 500 people from all over the place through the live stream.”
With more than 40 years of experience in preaching, Easter Sunday will be the first time Morey has delivered a sermon to a digital audience on the Holy Day.
“It’s awfully odd to be restricted to that kind of medium and not be able to have contact with folks,” Morey said. “But, we’ve been really diligent to do the due diligence in keeping safe. We only allow 10 people in church and that’s the ones that are reading or singing or participating in the service.”
On March 26, the Arkansas Department of Health in consultation with Gov. Asa Hutchinson issued an order prohibiting the gathering of more than 10 people in any confined indoor or outdoor space until further notice. However, the directive does not apply to gatherings of 10 or more people in an unenclosed and outdoor space including, but not limited to trails, parks or parking lots.
“For worship services, I’ve been very impressed with how places of worship have found creative ways to celebrate together without being in physical contact whether that’s online or whether that’s in a parking lot with each person in their car or whether that’s a small number in a very large facility where everyone has plenty of room to socially distance,” said Nate Smith, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health in Friday’s press briefing.
Come rain or sunshine, Pine Bluff First Assembly of God pastor Gary Bell will preach the gospel in his church’s parking lot tomorrow.
“Having them in cars is good, but it’s not great,” Bell said. “Great is having them in arms reach to hug on them and love on them to bless them. But, I will tell you that I’m equally excited about a new challenge.”
Bell will host four services beginning at 8 a.m. and lasting until 3 p.m. including one bilingual program. His team will also be taking requests in real time for anyone in need of prayer. At the end of the service, those in attendance will even be able to give an offering as they exit the parking lot to attendants wearing gloves.
“I say there’s creativity in chaos and I see this across the board,” said Bell who has been preaching since 1991. “Many church leaders are put into the position where we are having to think more creatively and that’s a good thing, a positive thing. That’s true with our church family as well.”
New St. Hurricane Baptist Church pastor Derick Easter plans to combine his message with acting as he stars in a one-person production of the 14 Stations of the Cross. Like Bell and Harris, Easter grapples with the thought of preaching his first Easter Sunday message to an empty church.
“It’s not normal to preach to an empty sanctuary and to do so completely online, because you want that human interaction and engagement and connection with people,” Easter said. “So, it’s different and uncomfortable. But, we’ve also tried to take it as an opportunity to think about how do I get past my uncomfortable state and minister to people in an effective way and try to help them to have some semblance of an Easter experience there in their home.”
With more than 20 years of pastoring under his belt, Easter exclaims during this time he’s been working to meet not only the physical, but also spiritual needs of his congregation.
“People are accessing our content online and so viewership has gone up,” he said. “We’ve done a lot to try to stay in connection with our members to try to make sure they know how to access the different media platforms that we’re on. I think it’s really important during this time they receive that continued spiritual enrichment and nourishment as best as we can.”
Facebook Live will be the platform of choice for newly appointed pastor of First Trinity Church of God in Christ, Aaron Withers.
“Our original plan was to do the parking lot service, but because of the weather forecast we are going to go online and stream our service from the sanctuary,” he said.
According to Withers, the decision to move weekly services online has come with its demands especially serving a mostly elderly congregation.
“The older church is used to tradition and getting together on Sunday for worship and then Tuesday’s for Bible Study,” he said. “It has been an inconvenience, but it’s also been an opportunity for us to find new ways to stay connected. It’s promoting a digital ministry and it’s pushing us to stay relevant and stay connected using technology.”
Withers, who was appointed as the new pastor of First Trinity C.O.G.I.C in January, was set to have his installation on April 18th. But, with restrictions set forth by state officials, he decided to postpone the celebration.
“It didn’t stop the plan,” he said. “We’re just having to push it back. We were looking forward to it by celebrating with my family and friends from around the city, state and even around the country. When this is over, we’re going to have it.”
As far as live stream services becoming the new normal for pastors across the world, Bell isn’t sure. But, he believes the platform will continue to help in their efforts to spread the word of God to believers and non-believers.  
“I think there’s going to be an impetus for all of us to utilize the online ministry to its maximum potential,” he said. “It’ll never be the same. It won’t go back to business as usual.”