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Church leaders: Stage 5 provides ‘confidence’ but little immediate impact

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The loosening of coronavirus-related restrictions by Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) and Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett (D) have churches across the state preparing for more people to return to the pews. But pastors believe it will take some time to see widescale changes with their procedures.

As of Saturday, when Stage 5 begins, all but the largest churches can meet without restrictions on the number of people in the service. And per Hogsett’s announcement Friday, as of next weekend, churches in Marion County can have meet with up to 75% capacity.

St. Luke’s United Methodist Church near 86th and Meridian streets, a place that would see more than 2,000 people on a typical weekend, has sat empty inside for months.

“Our last Sunday in here was March the 8th,” said senior pastor Rob Fuquay. “We had no idea we would be talking this long.”

Just two weeks ago, St. Luke’s started having in-person services in the parking lot, with the congregation bringing their own chairs.

Church leaders have been tracking cases and positivity rates and wanting to align with Washington Township schools, which started fully virtual. That has meant fully virtual services through the spring and summer.

But Friday morning, just before the mayor’s press conference and two days after the governor’s, the decision was announced to the congregation: In-person services will begin again Oct. 18.

“We feel like this gives us great confidence. Have we erred on the side of being too cautious? We probably have,” Fuquay said. “I would rather be erring on that than the other way.”

Across the county line, Cornerstone Lutheran Church near Main Street and Gray Road in Carmel has been meeting in person and socially distant with masks since May.

What started with fewer than 200 people spread over six services has grown to 700 people at seven services in three separate locations. Still, it’s less than half the 1,500 weekly attendance before the pandemic.

Executive pastor Scott Giger said with every loosening of restrictions, more people have come. The biggest jump happened once school restarted.

“I think with Stage 5, it’s going to be the same thing,” Giger said. “Once people hear what seems to be positive news, it’s going to embolden people to try it when they haven’t before.”

While Sunday services are likely to change little for now, other activities throughout the week may change sooner, for example, allowing youth activities to happen indoors.

“All these things we will have to re-evaluate, reassess,” Giger said. “Are we going to be doing things the way we have been doing them or we are going to be doing them differently now that Stage 5 has begun?”

At St. Luke’s, more difficult decisions are ahead with traditional Christmas concerts and other special events inching ever closer.

“Who knows how long it will be before we ever get back to what March the 8th, 2020, felt like in here,” Fuquay said.

News 8 talked to about a dozen churches in Hamilton County and all seemed to follow the lead of Cornerstone, saying they will be re-evaluating what Stage 5 means for them next week, but for the moment, no big changes are planned for the weekend ahead.