Avoiding large gatherings, KS churches make changes for Easter Sunday

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) While the Kansas Department of Health and Environment tries to contain the spread of COVID-19, it says a few church gatherings have been part of the problem when it comes to breaking guidelines associated with social distancing.

With the start of Holy Week for Christians, most churches in the state have made changes ahead of one of their busiest days of the year, Easter Sunday.

Monday, Dr. Lee Norman with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment says there are currently 11 clusters of COVID-19 in Kansas. Most have been found in nursing facilities, but three of the 11 are related to church gatherings.

Lincoln Montgomery, pastor of Wichita's Tabernacle Bible Church says he is not going to put his congregation at risk, despite the significance of next Sunday and what it means in the faith.

"I don't think we will take for granted that fact that we have this glorious opportunity to worship," Pastor Montgomery says.

Montgomery has been the head of Tabernacle Bible Church for decades. He says usually on Easter, his sanctuary is full. He knows that won't be the case this year. The doors to Pastor Montgomery's church have been closed since mid March. It's a decision he says was the right call to make.

"My number one concern was the health and welfare of these people, and I can get the word to them by any means necessary," Pastor Montgomery says.

Dr. Norman says the latest investigation concerning church gatherings and a localized spread of COVID-19 comes from a church conference in Kansas City, Kan.

"There were 50 people in attendance at this one," Norman says. "W're in the epidemiologic investigation right now, but we've been already able to link several cases back to his particular church gathering."

Pastor Montgomery says his church has indefinitely ended all in-person gatherings out of safety for his congregation and many fellow churches he's aware of are taking the same step..

"The threat is growing exponentially on a daily basis, and given the evidence, it is clear and present before us. I don't think it should be ignored," he says."

Until in-person services can resume, Pastor Montgomery says he will continue to use an online approach. He notes that the message won't change.

"In God's own good time, this will be fixed, and we will be able to come back together in a traditional senses," he says. "But I will continue to utilize the reach of social media to get to those who can't get to me."