ASHLAND, Ky. (KT) – Rose Hill Baptist Church didn’t have to call any special meetings when Gov. Andy Beshear recommended churches go virtual or meet outside for the next month.
There was no worry because they were going to do what they have done since the pandemic started.
Pastor Matt Shamblin has directed the church cautiously and safely through the coronavirus pandemic from the very beginning. In fact, they closed their doors about a week before everybody else did and have been mostly outside since.
Last week, Shamblin even preached in some rain to a parking lot of congregants in cars listening through a radio transmitter. They looked through their rain-splattered windshield and spoke amens to the dashboard. The church has had about 70% of its pre-COVID attendance and have diligently marched on without blinking.
“Last week I preached in the rain a little bit,” he said. “This is not normal circumstances. Even though it’s not normal circumstances, God has been extraordinarily gracious to us through it all. Parts of our congregation are all across the age spectrum. We wanted to minister to everybody. We refused to leave people behind.”
So with an abundance of caution, Rose Hill has played it safe. They have done drive-up services and moved to a large gymnasium when forced inside because of weather. Everybody wears a mask and in the second service temperatures are taken with no exceptions.
“We started with drive-in service and our folks loved it so much that it has just expanded,” Shamblin said. “Then it really morphed. We have a lot of space. We’re blessed with two gyms and in the larger gym we were able to make it where the chairs were spread out, which was really a blessing.”
When the weather was better in the summer, people would get out lawn chairs or blankets to listen to an outside service. Some have stayed in their cars every service, he said.
Rose Hill has two morning services and the Sunday School classes meet in larger spaces throughout the week. They also have dual Sunday schools at 9 and 11 o’clock hour. They had already been putting services on the internet, have a radio transmitter and online giving was already set up.
Back in February, Shamblin and his wife, Chrissy, were exposed to the coronavirus and they both have preexisting medical conditions that could have serious impact. “It brought it home quick,” he said.
Shamblin said despite showing early caution, he thought they would be out of church for two weeks and everything would be back to normal by Christmas. Of course, that hasn’t happened. But instead of going back too soon, church leadership decided that they would stay outside and stay safe.
“Almost all, with a few exceptions, have stuck with us,” he said. “They’ve been there and been flexible. We were able to keep people safe and minister to a lot of people. We were able to keep people safe and able to minister to people on their level. We’re still delivering DVDs to some folks who are not getting out at all.”
Shamblin, who said he is a researcher, couldn’t find enough evidence to feel safe about going back inside the church. And, because of that, they have stayed status quo.
“I have listened closely to people within our congregation who are informed in helpful areas like the hospital and health departments,” he said. “I had a guy who was very, very ill. He was battling and almost died a week or two ago. Recently he stopped breathing in the doctor’s office. They kept him in the emergency room for 24 hours and then sent him home with antibiotics. This seems like somebody who should be in the hospital. When they told me they sent him home, I knew things were getting bad. There have been some who wanted us to go back to fully open everything up. But between myself and leadership, we couldn’t find the evidence to do that yet. Of course, we want to do it.”
Shamblin also has to take more than the church in consideration since Rose Hill runs a daycare and a Christian school. The school was scheduled to be off next week on Thanksgiving break and that had already been extended to the week after that as well.
The bottom line, he said, was that Rose Hill was “driven by the priority of the gospel going forward” and being flexible enough to do it safely. He’s proud of how the congregation has answered the call to do that even in the middle of a pandemic.
“I’ve been preaching through the book of Colossians each week outside. God has done incredible things in our church through this. God has worked an incredible amount of grace into that church body, which has been a real blessing.”