Places of worship adhering to social distancing guidelines were allowed to reopen their doors in Indiana on Sunday as stay-at-home order restrictions amid the coronavirus pandemic began to ease across the state.
On Monday, Gov. Eric Holcomb’s revised stay-at-home order began a new, less-strict phase which allows groups of 25 or less to cautiously congregate, but places of worship, like the Heartland Christian Center in Valparaiso, are not subject to that rule and can host as many parishioners as social distancing rules allow.
“We have 1,000 seats and we had to take our 600 chairs in order to maintain the social distancing, so we created some aisles for families and things like that,” said Heartland Christian Center Pastor Phil Willingham. “So you just walk in and smile and wave and sit down and worship.”
While volunteers helped sanitize common areas like pews and bathrooms in the church to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, a significant number of the congregation sat in their cars and watched the service projected onto a large screen in the church’s parking lot.
“Isolation is a really tough on a lot of people, not being able to have community,” Pastor Willingham said. “Humans were built for community and just being able to come back together and though I can’t physically touch you, I can see you, I can smile, there is something particularly when it comes to your faith that it just encourages people.”
State leaders have also asked those attending services to wear masks and urged those 65 and older and individuals with known high-risk medical conditions to stay home and participate virtually if possible.