The praise team sings, the drummer beats the drum and the Rev. James Wilkes Jr. gives an impassioned sermon each Sunday at Elon First Baptist Church — all to rows of mostly empty pews.
Over 10 months of masks, limited gatherings and physical distancing have affected aspects of everyday life — work, school, social activity and even how people worship during the coronavirus pandemic. As COVID-19 continues to spread, places of worship and people of faith are learning to worship during a pandemic. Thus leaving Wilkes, the senior pastor, to stand at the lectern, with rows of deserted pews, delivering his message to his congregation via Facebook Live, YouTube and by phone.
Places of worship are not subject to mass gathering limits set by North Carolina, but the state does advise them to limit in-person worship and if possible reduce services inside to 100 people or 30% of the fire capacity. Surges of COVID-19 clusters from religious gatherings peaked in October 2020. Across the state, there have been 148 clusters from religious gatherings which have collectively resulted in 2,098 cases of COVID-19 and 33 deaths as of Jan. 5, 2021, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
In March, as the pandemic triggered lockdowns across the country — and the world — Elon University Chaplain Jan Fuller had to learn how to be a chaplain over Zoom. She wanted to start a dialogue and encourage people to think about what is going on around the world, so Fuller began to write. Sentences and paragraphs of hopes, fears and day-to-day thoughts are what Fuller writes in her now-weekly chaplain reflections.