Area churches cope with coronavirus: Sunday worship plans affected as leaders keep faith

Dr. Erika Crawford, right, and Gayle Gregory wipe down church pews with disinfection wipes at Mount Zion Church in Dover. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — As traditional Sunday services neared, area churches continued altering worship plans.

Facing the coronavirus crisis, religious leaders emphasized healthy practices and keeping faith in troubled times.

Schedules were subject to change, of course, based on ever evolving conditions of the global pandemic.

Up to 70 percent of Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal worshipers in Dover are age 70 or older, and especially susceptible to the pandemic.

“The cold and flu season can thin out the gathering, but this is so rapidly moving that by Sunday it may be just me and Jesus here,” the Rev. Dr. Erika Crawford quipped Thursday.

Potential effects were no laughing matter, however, and Rev. Crawford took an otherwise serious approach to protecting members.

The church at 101 N. Queen St. planned to allow members to shake hands or hug and prefilled communion cups to be served individually. All prayer was to stay within pews.

The number of in-hand bulletins was greatly reduced, and information was increasingly distributed electronically.

All Mount Zion church school activities were suspended, along with Bible study and on-site soup kitchen meals and other events.

There’s still an opportunity to stay connected, and Rev. Crawford pointed to a live online video stream available at

“We don’t want to abandon people, we want them to still feel connected in a time when maintaining faith is so important,” she said.

Mount Zion’s major church conference coming next week was scaled back from 300 expected attendees to less than 100 as guests from New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania became cautiously unavailable.

“I’ve pastored through hurricanes and other storms, but this seems to be a fluid situation,” Rev. Crawford said. “At least there’s a way to monitor when the weather is likely to change for the better, but in this case there’s no telling how long and how much we’ll be affected because there’s no end in sight at the present moment.”

Services canceled

St. Andrews Lutheran Church in Dover on Friday morning decided to cancel worship services and all other activities for the rest of March.

“We’ll monitor it from there,” Pastor Gordon Simmons said. “We’re trying to err on the side of caution in respect to people’s health and hope that we can stop this epidemic before it goes any further.”

On Friday afternoon the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wilmington that oversees churches in Delaware and nine Eastern Shore of Maryland counties dispensed members from Sunday Mass obligations until further notice.

All Catholic parish schools and religious education programs were closed or canceled for two weeks beginning Monday.

Additionally, Dover-based Seventh-Day Adventist Bethuel Church and Mount Carmel Church of the Living God closed for two weeks.

Dr. Erika Crawford with the Mount Zion Church in Dover holds flyers that say “Praise God and Wash Your Hands.”

Emmanuel AME Church in Hartly canceled its Sunday service, which included women’s day activities.

Christ Episcopal Church Father Chuck Weiss awaited further direction from the diocese of Delaware, while taking proactive steps to staying healthy.

“We’re taking a tiered response and trying to adjust to whatever the current situation dictates,” Father Weiss said.

The church sees about 175 members at a typical Sunday service.

“The word ‘church’ means a group of people who get together and we’re still trying to figure out what that looks like at this point.”

In these uncertain times, figuring out what comes next continues to challenge all.

“We are trying to figure out how to love God, neighbor and ourselves,” Father Weiss said. “As Episcopalians we believe in balance and we’re neither panicking or sticking our heads in the sand.”

Cornerstone Church canceled ministry events, Sunday School and children’s church and recommended elderly members with compromised immune systems stay home; a live stream is available, Senior Pastor David Aubrey said. Up to 240 attend a Sunday service on average.

Looking for direction

Pastor Aubrey said the church was following the guidance of government and health professionals, and then applying the recommendations to protect its members.

“People are looking to see how leadership presents itself,” he said. “We want to respond in a way that’s not shaken or anxious while still maintaining a vigilance toward monitoring the conditions and understanding that it’s certainly a complex world right now.

“We do have the weapon of prayer to turn to and that’s a tremendously big advantage to have and rely on.

“Faith endures even in what are clearly trying times worldwide. Our staff is amazing and we’re all cautious, calm and confident while trusting that the Lord will guide us down the right path.”

There is no sacrament of communion at Wesley United Methodist Church this weekend. Sunday services will be live streamed on Facebook and posted on YouTube afterward. A fellowship hour has been canceled. The church typically sees about 180 members combined during two services.

The church has continued to clean everywhere and offer opportunity for anyone to do the same.

“We keep hand sanitizers in all the window sills and they’ll be topped off at every opportunity,” Pastor Yarnall said.

Serving in churches since 1997, she said, “I’ve never been down a road like this. It’s better to be cautious about everything we do.”

Worshiping online

Epworth Methodist Church in Rehoboth Beach posted an extensive review of COVID-19’s impact online at The church noted worship services videos are available on its website.

Through its website, Calvary Church announced the cancellation of its in-person Sunday gathering on Lebanon Road in Dover. The church planned to spread its Bible-based message online instead.

“We feel it’s essential to gather because of our faith but at the same time what matters is coming together in some way, whether it be at the church or from home,” Pastor Bryan Coon said.

“Wherever our families are, God will be with us.”

Calvary will utilize technology through the website, Facebook and YouTube via /calvary dover and via its CalvaryDover app.

The message read, in part, “We must take into consideration our respect for local authorities as stated in Romans 13.

“We must take into consideration the health and risk factors of our members. We also must take into consideration law and liability for our church.

“While we long to gather under one roof, the health and safety of our church remain a priority to us.”

Calvary continues to gather food in case of a shortage or economic downturn that challenges folks to be able to feed themselves.
Dropoffs can be made Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The church serves as a distribution site and has partnered with Delaware Food Bank.

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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