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Churches around the DMV move to online services in wake of COVID-19

Local churches are practicing social distancing with online services, continuing to provide worship for those in need.

WASHINGTON — As churches keep their doors closed for weekly services to prevent further spread of the coronavirus, many have turned to virtual tools to keep people connected.

On any given Sunday, you'll find throngs of worshippers filling the room for Sunday service at New Life Laurel, an off-site ministry of Reid Temple in Prince George's County.

But on Sunday, that sacred in-person experience was felt in a different way. It was all online.

Rev. Omari Hughes is one of the ministry's co-leaders and said it is important for all to adhere to CDC guidelines like social distancing to prevent the spread of Covid-19. 

"We're just like everyone else," Rev. Hughes said. "We're reacting to a constantly evolving situation that's so fluid."

"It's a set of shock that I think hit most people, but what we're trying to do is figure out ways that we can listen to and abide by guidelines from the CDC."

One Silver Spring church, Kingdom Fellowship AME, is also creating new ways for people to praise in times of the pandemic.

What would normally be a packed house for the church is now empty seats with just a praise worship team keeping their distance while still singing their praises.

Reverend Matthew Watley said they typically have three services.

"Throughout the day, we have about 2000 people," Watley said. Watley has moved his services online in hopes of reducing his congregation's exposure to COVID-19. 

Rev. Hughes and his team at New Life Laurel also have developed innovative ways to keep people connected, such as offering a 9 a.m. prayer call before a "Sunday Rewind."

The "Sunday Rewind" is a pre-recorded service that starts at 10 a.m. Text alerts go out to members reminding them to tune in online or the app. Reverend Watley said they’ll be also streaming their service and bible studies online for those who want to watch.

For Rev. Watley, the pandemic has let him feel closer to his faith.

“The bible says, faith without works is dead, so while we believe God," he said. "We also realize that God gives us information and instruction through authorities and leaders to help us govern ourselves the safest way possible."

Watley recognizes cabin fever may be starting to set in for some, and he believes this is the perfect time to reconnect with God. 

"We have developed a number of bible lessons and apps from nursery school to elementary school, our teens and our adults, we have lessons available for everyone. So while you’re in the house, this is a great time to get back in the word.”

Both churches are also using this time for community outreach.

"Through our doors are closed on Sundays, our doors are actually going to open a few times throughout the week to try to be a blessing to people in our community," Watley said. He also shared that the church will be assisting in providing groceries and supplies to those in need.

Beyond community outreach, New Life Laurel also is in the works to publish new content on social media and online.

"I think people, by-and-large, have been grateful for any time of connectivity," Rev. Hughes said. "Whenever we've been able to connect people, they are really grateful that we've done so."

Soon, Hughes and his team plan to implement what's called "virtual circle time"  where members download bible teachings from New Life's app or website and discuss them with a group via group video technology.

"Many people right now are trapped with their families, so we want to make sure that's a space that can also be used to facilitate gatherings and facilitate worship," he said. "Social distancing doesn't have to mean isolation."

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