ORLANDO, Fla. – Churches across Central Florida offered live streams of their services on Sunday as an alternative way for parishioners to worship due to growing fears of the coronavirus.
The band at First Presbyterian Church of Orlando performed in front of an empty sanctuary. Reverend Dr. David Swanson spoke to his congregation through a live stream posted online.
"If you had told me last Sunday that today we would not be having worship, I would have said there's no chance that happens. So this is how fast this whole thing is unfolding," Swanson said.
The church canceled services amid the growing concerns over the coronavirus. Local and state officials are urging people not to gather in large crowds to stop the spread of the virus, which is forcing local churches to find alternative ways to worship.
"There's no fear. We're not suspending worship today because we're afraid of something. We're doing that out of love for our community, love for our city, love for our neighbor because we need to slow this virus," Swanson said during Sunday's service.
Action Church also live-streamed their service. Pastor Justin Dailey said in a statement the church “will still be here to serve our community the best way we can, but will continue to follow all protocols recommended by the experts.”
During the live stream, Dailey told his congregation this is an opportunity to spread their message.
“Although we may not be meeting in the way that we normally do, our mission is still very very clear and that is to reach people,” Dailey said. “And I’m just believing this could be the greatest opportunity for us to reach people in this season.”
St. James Catholic Cathedral in downtown Orlando held Sunday mass. Parishioners said they came to the service seeking normalcy during these uncertain times.
"It's comforting. It's a place of solace. It's a place of prayer. Now we're in a time of a virus, this is the time to pray. Pray for people's health and safety," St. James parishioner Lindsay Kilgore said.
St. James church staff were seen wiping down the doors after Sunday's mass.
At St. Peters Episcopal Church in Lake Mary, the staff offered gloves and hand sanitizer to churchgoers.
Father Jeremy Bergstrom said in a statement he’s asking churchgoers to stay home if they feel sick, have a compromised immune system, or believe they might be coming down with something. He adds the church is no longer passing the offering plate during service and is asking attendees to not hold hands.
"I ask you prayers and patience as we try and get the right balance between fearlessness in our worship combined with sensible precaution," Bergstrom said.
Worshipers said the steps churches are taking to keep them safe are comforting.
“It means that they’re taking the virus seriously and they care for our parishioners and making sure that it feels like a safe place to come to worship and they don’t have to panic about sanitary conditions in our church,” Kilgore said.