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Members of Friendship Baptist Church in Clancy practiced social distancing Sunday while attending the first in-person service in weeks, as the state begins to lift stay-at-home restictions due to COVID-19. 

Pastor David Klass of Friendship Baptist Church in Clancy is prepared to hold a service Sunday after Gov. Steve Bullock last week began lifting social distancing restrictions due to COVID-19. 

Klass and his team got busy just hours after Bullock’s press conference April 22 and began arranging chairs in the sanctuary to meet the social distancing requirements. 

“We’re kind of excited to be getting back to some sort of normalcy,” he said. “I have no idea if anyone will show up … everyone has their own fear level,” said Klass, adding that his church will also continue to stream its services online. 

Churches and places of worship were first in line in Phase 1 of Bullock’s plan to lift the stay-at-home order and slowly re-open businesses, restaurants and schools sidelined by efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

Bullock’s guidelines call for places of worship to operate at reduced capacity and maintain strict physical distancing protocols between non-family members. Churches must also avoid gatherings of more than 10 people that do not allow for social distancing. 

Social distancing is understood to be a space of at least six feet between individuals in all directions. 

Other churches, like Boulder and Clancy United Methodist Churches, are following the guidance of Bishop Karen Oliveto of the Montana Sky Conference, which asked that churches remain closed through the end of May, said Pastor Val Colenso.

Colenso was not aware on Thursday if those guidelines were set to change.

County church leaders indicated that some considerations for re-opening included the space available to spread out and the general age of their congregations.

Pastor Floyd Oliver at the Basin Church of the Nazarene was eager to get back in the pulpit. 

“We’ll pray that God holds back the spread that the governor is trying to use his wisdom and intelligence to work on,” he said, adding that they also have room in the sanctuary to spread out the congregation, per the governor’s recommendation. 

Pastor Matthew Wilson of Grace Community Fellowship in Boulder is holding off until May 3 at 10:30 a.m. to resume in-church services.

The church wants to make sure it gets everything in place, and it may take some time to convince people that it’s O.K. to return, said Wilson.

Wilson wants his congregation to take the coronavirus seriously, but also wants to put them at ease.

Colenso said the Boulder United Methodist Church has room in the sanctuary to space people out, but much of the congregation is older, hence the concern. 

She said her church will continue streaming its service out of the Clancy United Methodist Church until a decision is made on how to proceed. 

Churches have been closed to in-house services since March 26 when Bullock issued a stay-at-home order for all non-essential activities as a way to thwart the spread of COVID-19.


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