Memphians worship apart for Sunday services

By , Daily Memphian Updated: March 15, 2020 9:31 PM CT | Published: March 15, 2020 1:14 PM CT

Editor’s note: Due to the serious public health implications associated with COVID-19, The Daily Memphian is making our coronavirus coverage accessible to all readers — no subscription needed.

While many Memphians spend Sundays worshipping, some sanctuaries were less full or empty in many of the area’s churches due to coronavirus concerns and precautions.

Highland Church of Christ, both Highpoint Church campuses and Central Church were among churches holding an online stream and not gathering in buildings.

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During Highpoint’s 9 a.m. service, about 240 people tuned into the live stream, according to YouTube. Lead Pastor Wil Franco encouraged the congregation to trust God’s sovereignty in the midst of a human lack of control of COVID-19.

“God is not surprised,” Franco said as he read passages from Romans 8. “Even something as unexpected as the coronavirus was part of God’s plan.”

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Christ Church in East Memphis and Idlewild Presbyterian Church only had online services and are scheduled to hold services via livestream March 22.

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Five pastors from four different churches led Idlewild’s online service. Vimeo’s livestream said about 250 people watched.

By video, Idlewild Pastor Anne Apple said she was also watching online from home “out of an abundance of caution” after visiting her daughter in Seattle.

“The universality of this virus reminds us of how connected we are and how we can miss our togetherness. Humans are meant for connection,” Apple said. “As the church we are connected specifically through Jesus Christ, and this virtual worship service reminds us of the power of the spirit through a living Lord.” 

She said the online form “challenges tradition,” but forced the congregation think of “the creativity of what it means to be the church.”

Bellevue Baptist Church held a fairly normal traditional service. The choir sang and Pastor Steve Gaines offered a sermon. The large church is part of the Southern Baptist Convention and recognized President Donald Trump’s call to a national day of prayer. More than 800 people were watching the 9:20 a.m. service online. Nursery was available for very young children.

First Evangelical Church in East Memphis met in its regularly scheduled 10:45 a.m. service. The choir did not sing. The church did not have nursery or Sunday School. The church counted 221 in attendance. 153 were accounted for on Facebook, but First Evan officials noted the number could include multiple people watching on screen.

Cole Huffman, senior pastor, mentioned they are collecting canned goods and items for those in need and those interested in giving that way may drop donations off in the Fellowship Hall this week. The church also observed the president’s request, but Huffman said the service usually includes prayer.

“During this time of heightened awareness of our own frailties – the reality that we are not in exclusive control of our lives – please guide our hearts and minds with the incredible peace of Jesus,” Huffman prayed. “Kill our fears, Lord even as we seek to be prudent. But make us want the death of our fears as much as we want the death of this virus.”

He asked in prayer the church long to be physically together, and wisdom for political leaders.

Orchard Church, in Collierville, normally holds two services on Sundays, but held one on Sunday and reminded members of the option to watch online.

Christ Missionary Baptist Church in Memphis streamed its service from its East Memphis location out of precautions. Before the sermon, Rev. Gina Stewart asked a doctor and physician’s assistant – both church members – to deliver a slideshow presentation explaining the virus’ origin and emphasize the significance of social distancing.

The Catholic Diocese of Memphis released a decree Friday excusing some from weekly and obligatory holiday mass services. David Talley, bishop of Memphis, specifically identified those over 60, with chronic illnesses, weakened immune systems and their caretakers in the decree. He asked them to instead spend time in prayer, meditation and reading scripture. The decree is in effect until he orders otherwise.

Sunday, Tennesaee Department said there were still two related confirmed cases in the Shelby County and 39 in the state. 133 people were being monitored by Shelby County Health Department at 10 a.m. Sunday.


Memphis Central Church Highland Church of Christ Catholic Diocese of Memphis Highpoint Church Wil Franco Christ Church Idlewild Presbyterian Church First Evangelical Church orchard church
Abigail Warren

Abigail Warren

Abigail Warren is a lifelong resident of Shelby County and a graduate of the University of Memphis. She has worked for several local publications and covers the suburbs for The Daily Memphian.


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