Waco churches adapt to COVID-19 guidelines

St. Francis on the Brazos Catholic Church. Christina Cannady | Photographer

By Matti Pennington | Reporter

Throughout Waco, churches have adapted their protocols during the pandemic to allow congregations to attend in person and virtually.

Students at Baylor have been faced with the choice of attending the service that feels most comfortable to them.

Grosse Pointe, Mich., junior Katie Jeup has attended Highland Baptist Church since she was a freshman at Baylor. Jeup said she has been enjoying watching Highland from the comfort of her own home since the pandemic began.

“I think Highland has done a great job at keeping everyone in the church socially distanced and made online church very easy,” Jeup said. “Most Sundays my long-distance boyfriend, who goes to the University of Michigan, will join me for online church. Using Zoom and having Highland’s amazing online live resources, it has been very easy to congregate with loved ones from all over the country.”

While Jeup was home for the summer she was able to continue attending Highland online, which was not an option prior to the pandemic. Highland members who meet in person gather each Sunday at 8:40 a.m., 10 a.m. or 11:20 a.m. in the Life Center. Church attendees may also watch the service from the chapel where they require everyone to socially distance and wear a mask.

Like Highland, First Woodway Baptist Church has both online and in-person options. Waco sophomore Julianna Lewis said she has attended First Woodway for the past ten years and now leads a small group of high school girls.

“My family and I feel that First Woodway is taking this pandemic very seriously and we feel very safe and comfortable during the service,” Lewis said.

First Woodway requires each person attending church in person to wear a mask until they reach their seats where they can then remove it if they feel comfortable.

“I would say about 50% wear their masks throughout the whole service, and 50% do not wear a mask,” Lewis said. “We have two services on Sunday mornings, and there is thorough sanitation after both services.”

Harris Creek Baptist Church has both an option for a service where a mask is required and a service where a mask is optional.

“I usually attend in person, but definitely with a face mask and socially distanced,” Newport Beach, Calif., senior Caroline Jackson said. “I’ve had a few COVID scares so naturally, I don’t attend then, but Harris Creek does an awesome job at making church easily available through streaming.”

Jackson is a part of a life group that she attends weekly, and said she is thankful that, even with COVID-19, Harris Creek has allowed her to continue through Zoom.

“Even when the pandemic first hit, my life group would still meet on Zoom every week,” Jackson said. “COVID definitely hit everyone hard, but it was cool to see how the leadership pursued with confidence and withstood all the difficulty.”

St. Francis on the Brazos’ Parish is open for public masses, but is observing the social distancing protocols to ensure the safety of the attendees. They ask their members to wear masks and not to attend if feeling sick.

Sunday mass times for Spanish-speaking affiliates are 7:30 a.m., 9:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m., and English-speaking affiliates at 10:30 a.m. Members who do not feel comfortable attending in person can join St. Francis on the Brazos’ Facebook Live.

St. Peter’s Catholic Student Center located just off campus is also back open with daily masses, mask-wearing and social distancing. The Baylor Catholic Student Association, an apostolate of St. Peter’s, is still hosting Zoom events.

Church Under the Bridge has adapted to COVID-19 in a much different way due to its number of homeless attendees.

“When all churches were banned for about nine weeks from gatherings for worship, beginning last March, we continued to serve a meal to 80 to 100 homeless each Sunday morning on Webster Street in front of the Silos, where the church moved after the I-35 construction began,” senior pastor Jimmy Dorrell said. “We even offered communion, prayer and a song as they picked their food.”

Since May 10, the first Sunday that churches could open back up, Church Under the Bridge has been back and worshipping in person with masks, hand-washing stations and social distancing.

“We currently are having about 140 attendees of mixed-income and races each Sunday, a little over half of our pre-COVID numbers,” Dorrell said.

In December, the CDC released a statement addressing communities of faith, detailing what they can do to prevent the spread of the virus. The federal government can recommend safety measures to churches, but not require them, due to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.