A small Baptist church in the Columbus Historic District held its normal Sunday morning service, drawing the attention of local law enforcement during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church at the corner of Sixth Street and First Avenue was in the middle of its 11 a.m. service when Columbus Police and a Muscogee County Sheriff’s deputy showed up following a complaint.
There were between 15 and 20 people inside the sanctuary, according to a police officer who looked inside. The parishioners were social distancing, the officer said.
The Sheriff’s Deputy who went inside said that the church was not in violation of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s shelter in place order issued on Friday. People were spread out, at least six feet apart,
Under the Georgia order, if an event or business is shut down, it has to be done by the sheriffs offices.
Pastor Jimmy L. Williams’ wife, Gloria, told News 3 that the churchgoers were at least six feet apart.
“We got hand sanitizer and we prayed,” Gloria Williams said about other measures being taken in addition to social distancing. “Before he asked everybody to sit so that we are all abiding by the law.”
Gloria Williams allowed News 3 to shoot video of the church service from outside the sanctuary’s back door. The video was shot through a window.
Deacon Ray Bostick said it was important for the small congregation to gather in this time of crisis.
“It is important for me to be in the House of the Lord because I am a full-fledged Christian and if I did not trust my God, I might as well go home,” Bostick said. “If I did not have my trust in my God, then I wouldn’t be who I say I am.”
And part of that trust is gathering at a time when it is being discouraged.
“I am trying to show leadership,” Bostick said. “And I am also trying to do man’s law. Because God’s law also requires me to be a good Christian.”
The deputy who responded to the call said it was the only church he had seen open Sunday morning.
Two weeks ago, Columbus Mayor Skip Henderson called for churches to stop meeting as he issued a Declaration of Emergency, shutting down large gatherings in the city. Most local churches stopped meeting at that time.
Kemp issued a Shelter-in-Place order on Friday. It limits gatherings of 10 or more people. But more can gather if the space allows proper social distancing, the governor’s order has been interpreted.