Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, bottom right, speaks with, clockwise from top left, Scott Smith, Mike Griffin, and Brad Hughes while Georgia Baptist ministers add their comments in the chat during a webinar held this morning.
DULUTH — Georgia Governor Brian Kemp joined a virtual audience of some 600 Georgia Baptist ministers this morning via Zoom to discuss the stay-in-shelter order that goes into effect today at 6 p.m.
Like others, churches leaders have had to learn on the fly how to maintain a sense of continuity amid the coronavirus outbreak that as of noon today had brought 5,831 cases to the state and 184 deaths. Kemp joined his director of Field Operations, Brad Hughes; Georgia Baptist Public Affairs Representative Mike Griffin; and Scott Smith, Georgia Baptist Online Training strategist, on the call.
Only able to attend for 15 minutes or so due to other responsibilities, Kemp began by expressing his thanks for the support by Georgia Baptists.
“I always kid people that I don’t think there’s a better-loved Episcopalian by the Baptists than myself,” he said. “I think I’ve sent some pretty strong signals in my messaging. I’m praying every day as well. I know the Good Lord has got this; He’s got a plan. I’m not quite sure I know exactly what that is yet, but I’m a firm believer that we’re living it out and I’m trying to do that to the best of my ability every day.”
After opening with prayer, Smith began by addressing two central questions expressed by pastors. Those are 1) Can we continue to do drive-in church and 2) Is it ok for our team to go to the church facilities in a group of less than ten and produce a worship service?
People need church … and wise practices
The quick answer to both of those, the governor stated, is “Yes.”
“I have a strong belief that now, more than ever, our people need their faith leaders,” Kemp said. “It is a time to put our faith in the Good Lord and have His guidance in this. That’s what the government was built upon, and we’re living that out.”
Kemp added that he’s wrestled with decisions since the outbreak, with some suggesting that church services should be disallowed. “I fundamentally don’t think that’s a wise move,” he asserted. “Our people need [church services] more than ever.
The governor spoke to the transformative effect technology has had on churches, allowing them to meet online when physical meetings aren’t an option. Of course, that requires essential personnel to produce those online services. Churches, he stressed, are allowed to have those individuals on-site as long as they maintain the six feet of recommended distance.
20 practices when on-site
Kemp cited the Executive Order going into effect later today. Specifically, churches having anyone on-site should follow 20 required practices included in the order. They are:
- Screening and evaluating workers who exhibit signs of illness, such as a fever over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, cough, or shortness of breath;
- Requiring workers who exhibit signs of illness to not report to work or to seek medical attention;
- Enhancing sanitation of the workplace as appropriate;
- Requiring hand washing or sanitation by workers at appropriate places within the business location;
- Providing personal protective equipment as available and appropriate to the function and location of the worker within the business location;
- Prohibiting group gatherings of workers during working hours;
- Permitting workers to take breaks and meals outside, in their office or personal workspace, or in such other areas where proper social distancing is attainable;
- Implementing teleworking for all possible workers;
- Implementing staggered shifts for all possible workers;
- Holding all meetings and conferences vi1tually, wherever possible;
- Delivering intangible services remotely wherever possible;
- Discouraging workers from using other workers’ phones, desks, offices, or other work tools and equipment;
- Prohibiting handshaking and other unnecessary person-to-person contact in the workplace;
- Placing notices that encourage hand hygiene at the entrance to the workplace and in other workplace areas where they are likely to be seen;
- Suspending the use of Personal Identification Number (“PIN”) pads, PIN entry devices, electronic signature capture, and any other credit card receipt signature requirements to the extent such suspension is permitted by agreements with credit card companies and credit agencies;
- Enforcing social distancing of non-cohabitating persons while present on such entity’s leased or owned property;
- For retailers and service providers, providing for alternative points of sale outside of buildings, including curbside pickup or delivery of products and/or services if an alternative point of sale is permitted under Georgia law;
- Increasing physical space between workers and customers;
- Providing disinfectant and sanitation products for workers to clean their workspace, equipment, and tools;
- Increasing physical space between workers’ worksites to at least six (6) feet.
The order leaves room for churches to still have in-person meetings, provided attendees can keep a distance of six feet apart. However, Kemp urged churches to make decisions based on common sense and having a knowledge of whether or not their members can faithfully observe the recommended distance. Hughes repeated that later in the webinar when the discussion again turned to drive-in churches.
“If there is any doubt in your mind that your people have the discipline to be able to stay in the car, park far enough apart, and be wise … you shouldn’t have it,” he announced. In particular, he pointed out, going online-only makes sense in hard-hit areas such as Albany. Dougherty County, where Albany is located, currently holds the second-highest number of cases in the state (560) behind Fulton and the highest number of deaths (30).
Many pastors commented in the chat how they and others had opted out of drive-in services for those reasons as well as others such as not being able to provide restroom facilities.
Not looking to cite pastors
Kemp stated that while some churches around the country have defied local orders and met in person, it’s not his objective to issue citations for or arrest pastors.
“I can assure you, we have more problems than that to deal with right now,” said the governor. And while it’s an apprehensive time, he added, it’s not one without hope. That’s one of the reasons he said he cited Joshua 1:9 in announcing the order.
“It’s good for us to be praying right now. It’s good for us to remember things other than the coronavirus. … People are scared, but it is not a time to be afraid,” he pointed out.
“The Good Lord is with us. We have to fight through this; we have strong, resilient people. I’m very confident we’re going to do that … and come out better than before because of what we have learned … and I think it’s going to change the direction in our country in a lot of ways. That’ll be good for America and that’ll be good for Georgia.”
The Georgia Baptist Mission Board has assembled a list of resources surrounding concerns of COVID-19 available for pastors. The full webinar with Gov. Kemp’s comments can be seen below.
Scott Barkley serves as editor of The Christian Index.