GAINESVILLE, Ga. — For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic, worshipers gathered together for in-person services at Free Chapel campuses across the state.
The outdoor services were held in Gainesville, Gwinnett, Cumming, and Midtown as well as the Spartanburg, South Carolina, campus this morning.
The church said they followed "COVID-safe guidelines" and said seating was first-come, first-serve. They said "efforts were made" to create a touchless experience and that extra face masks were available.
It was the first in-person experience for the church since March 15.
Photographs shared from the event in Gainesville show many people in the crowd not wearing any face coverings.
Photos: Free Chapel outdoor services
Although Senior Pastor Jentezen Franklin has been eager to have the church community back to worship for many months, they said he wanted to proceed with caution for the health and safety of the congregation.
"In the last several weeks, Free Chapel staff have monitored the COVID-19 cases in the local areas and reviewed up to date guidelines from Governor Kemp’s most recent executive orders to organize best practices for gathering the church in a safe way," the church said in a statement. "The pastoral staff sent out several church wide surveys in efforts to hear from the people first hand."
In Midtown, about 200 people gathered at Piedmont Park for the service.
“Everyone just open arms from a distance and everyone loving on each other from a distance it was incredible,” Vanessa Romero said.
Midtown campus pastor Robert Stella says there were more than 200 people in their Midtown group - so to safely follow CDC guidelines took a lot of planning.
“We had face masks for everybody asked them to wear than we set chairs out all socially distanced,” Stella said.
And while worshiping online has had its challenges, Stella says it did help mobilize them to take their mission to the streets.
“We started going out serving and doing tons and tons of food outreaches and handing out boxes and boxes of food and going out and helping the homeless shelters," Stella said.
He’s just grateful they can practice their faith together again, since right now, he says, they need their faith more than ever.
They said they plan to resume indoor services on Sept. 13.
"The staff and volunteers are ready to embrace the new normal for gathering the church in person and will take all necessary precautions to make that happen in a safe way," the church's statement said. "In the upcoming months, Free Chapel staff and board will continue to monitor updates & orders by the CDC, Governor Kemp, Dept of Public Health & the Leadership in consideration of all services."