KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – Almost a year after COVID-19 swept through the Tri-Cities region, causing lockdowns and closures, one local church is restarting its children’s Wednesday night services.
Sunnyside Baptist Church in Kingsport reopened its Awana services to the children of the congregation Wednesday. News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais spoke with church leaders about how different the services look now amid the ongoing pandemic.
“A lot of things have been turned upside down. I have had the fun experience of trying to think outside of the box,” Tammy Rogers, Children’s Director at Sunnyside Baptist Church said. “Awana usually starts in September, and of course, we haven’t been able to have Awana at all. I usually try to provide a Wednesday video on Facebook. We have a private Facebook group for our children and parents here at church that they can tune into and watch, and I also do a Sunday school class on Sunday mornings.”
She said the church’s Sunday school services started up in October, but when COVID-19 case numbers began to rise, leadership decided to cancel in-person sessions.
“We have so much to be thankful for. Our numbers have been down, but we’re starting to pick back up and we’re just really excited,” Rogers explained.
COVID-19 has changed the way Sunnyside is approaching hosting Awana on Wednesdays.
“One of the major activities that we do with Awana, is we connect the parents with their children to help them study their Bibles and give them tools to, and aides to help them do that,” Christopher Kelley, Awana Director at Sunnyside Baptist Church told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais.
That is how things used to be, Kelley explained. Now, things work a little differently.
“The difference today from previous days, is we would have, obviously, everybody on-site, and it was a big collage of activities going on and kids were running around everywhere and parents and leaders were here interacting with those kids. Today, we’re thinking outside of the box, we’re looking at options we could do, we’re trying to social distance our kids as much as possible, we also understand that we’re not going to be able to protect them completely from sickness, so we understand there are some risks with that, we communicated with parents and we also have their commitment – if they’ve been sick of if they’ve been around sickness over the last week, that they not bring their kids to this program, and so we’ve communicated that with them, we’re handing them that on-paper, and so, it’s kind of a partnership with this program,” Kelley explained.
Certain extra safety precautions have also been taken, Kelley said. Hand-washing stations and sanitizer were made available to the kids.
“We also have individually wrapped snacks and bottled water that we’ll be giving them to be able to get a snack and, they will need something to drink because they will be here for over an hour and a half with us, so we recognize that, so we’re trying to keep them away from water fountains or bring in their own, kind of thing, so we’re trying to facilitate that here,” he said.
Team leaders and parents were required to wear masks while on church property, he explained. Kids were asked to wear masks, but given their young ages, Kelley explained that it was not a strict requirement.
“We’re doing an online option for our kids, so if they don’t feel comfortable or safe being back on the grounds, we’ve got an online private group where they’re connecting with us and we also have leaders who volunteer here to reach out to them through the week by phone and just talk through the things that they’re studying and that kind of connection with them,” Kelley said.
He added that open communication with parents is more important than ever.
“We ask the parents to partner with us and that this is a partnership between us and them being knowledgeable of where their kids are at and how they feel and those kinds of things, we’re asking them to be more aware of that today, and that’s really the partnership. If we feel sick or have any issues around us, we’ve given our leaders permission to basically say ‘I can’t come on-site tonight,’ and we’re able to flex with that. We know how to do that, we’re going to do that, so we ask the same from the parents – if you have any evidence at all of sickness or anything going through your home, we just ask you to keep your kids away and we will connect with them through the week,” Kelley said.
For the children, being surrounded by friends is the most important.
“Since we get to go to school and everything, then why not go to church? It’s even better,” 10-year-old Blake Barr told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais.
To Barr, his favorite part about Awana is “probably the games, I love playing and also just handbook time, it’s really fun, get to be with your friends and learn about God.”
Handbook time, according to Barr, is the study and memorization of Bible verses.