CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Leaders in African Methodist Episcopal churches in South Carolina are taking virtual seminars to learn how to prepare the church buildings and congregations for a return.
While some churches are beginning to reopen, no reopening date has been set for AME churches in the state.
The Presiding Bishop of the 7th District AME Church Samuel L. Green Sr., who oversees South Carolina, says they are cautious because of health disparities in the African American community, and he wants to make sure people are safe when they return.
"The reason why we have not made the decision to re-enter into our church buildings yet is because the African American population is still a vulnerable population," Green said. "The number of coronavirus cases in South Carolina that are African Americans is alarming."
South Carolina health officials say African Americans make up about 27 percent of the population, but account for 53 percent of COVID-19 deaths and 45 percent of cases in the state.
"We have health disparities even greater because of the lack of hospitals, lack of medical opportunities, clinics... telemedicine is not working because many areas in the rural community don't have broadband." Green said. "So, you can't get on the computer, and have a conversation with your physician, because you don't have access to it."
While the planning is still underway some of the changes at churches could include temperature checks, requiring masks, limited capacity, one-way entrances and exits, and retrofitting restrooms with automatic sinks and flushers.
Green says they are looking at trends in case data to determine when to reopen. So far they haven’t seen a decline great enough to ensure safety.
“Not only do I want to make sure that they have a place to worship, I want to make sure that they have a healthy place,” Green said.
The AME church is the largest African denomination in South Carolina with more than 500 churches and more than 225,000 members, according to Green. While churches are providing virtual church services and connecting with people through technology he says not all churches have the capabilities.
Green says he broadcasts a virtual service every week to reach those who might have a church that is able to.
“Although we have been doing virtual worshiping services it’s still not the same as being in the [church] with people that you have come to know and love,” Green said.
Green says he planned to collect an offering to assist churches who might not be able to afford protective gear and other supplies to reopen in the future.
“We have a responsibility to make sure that our communities and our population is not put in a risk or position, and that we protect our communities as well as protect the majority of society,” Green said.