By Natalie Simms
It’s been a difficult year for churches because of the COVID pandemic but few have had a more trying time than The Church at Liberty Square.
The Cartersville church, at 2001 Liberty Square Drive, was traced by state health officials to be the source of one of the earliest coronavirus outbreaks in Northwest Georgia, one that led to many positive cases and deaths.
The outbreak stemmed from a special choir celebration on March 1, 2020. That service was held before many even knew what COVID-19 was and that it was in the United States, much less in Georgia.
“… We had well over 1,000 people in attendance for a special celebration to honor a former staff member and the service featured a reunion choir,” says Dr. Jacob King, senior pastor. “Many were later diagnosed with COVID and several passed away.”
According to an article in the AJC on April 13, as many as 15 cases were initially traced to the church and at least five people who attended the March 1 service or who had a loved one there died from COVID. Among them was a Rome woman, Northwest Georgia’s first victim who died March 15.
King says the church lost 14 members to COVID in the first three months of the pandemic, between March and May. And because of the pandemic and stay-at-home orders, the church was not open for group worship, which made it more difficult to deal with so many losses.
“After we reopened for corporate worship again, we honored the lives of 14 that passed in that season during a special service in July,” he says. “We have been very fortunate to not have any more widespread outbreaks of COVID since March of last year.
“Dealing with the loss of so many valuable and well-loved members has been quite difficult. It all happened so suddenly, and the pain of that loss continues to be felt. But it has also revealed the hope and resiliency of the body of Christ. We are a spiritual family, and the love and support I have witnessed this congregation give to each other has been amazing during this adverse time.”
As the church was closed for in-person worship, all services moved to an online format. The church re-opened last June and has been open ever since. Prior the COVID pandemic, the church averaged about 1,000 in attendance on Sunday mornings.
“Since our reopening, we utilize stringent guidelines for the continuous cleaning of the buildings, social distancing and other common COVID precautions you see in other places as well,” says King. “Currently we are at about 50% of our pre-COVID Sunday morning worship attendance.
“During and since the suspension of in-person gatherings, our online audience has grown exponentially. Even as many people are continuing to start coming back in-person each week, many choose to connect with us online.”
In September, the church opened its parking lot up to the Georgia Department of Public Health’s Northwest Health District to be a COVID-19 free testing site in Bartow County.
“We decided to become a COVID testing site as a way to give back to our community, as well as a testimony that hope can rise out of deep suffering and pain,” says King. “Since we know firsthand what it means to be affected by the virus, this small part of helping others was a great opportunity to share the love and compassion of Christ. The stability of faith and the importance of community have always been anchors to the soul, but even more so during this pandemic.”
Public Health has since closed the free testing site in Bartow and mobilized staff to focus on vaccine distribution in the community.
King says he hopes his church will continue “to grow in creativity and innovation” to minister to the community in the ever-changing world.
“In many ways, ministry is a very different world today. Considering the changing atmosphere of the culture, limitations of facility use and capacity, and the changing worship patterns of Americans, we have all had to grow in creativity and innovation,” he says.
“But in another sense, it is exactly the same. Loving God, loving people and growing followers of Jesus is our mission statement. That has held true, even during and after the pandemic.
“Loving our neighbor, caring for those less fortunate, worshipping Christ together, and telling others about Jesus are necessities that will never change.”