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OPINION: Heaven has no capacity limit

As conditions surrounding the coronavirus pandemic improve, particularly in Lafayette County, conversations must take place regarding the relaxation of some mandates.

Last Sunday morning, my family and I rose bright and early to attend in-person worship at our church.

We arrived a full 10 minutes early – quite a feat with an infant – and what we saw upon arrival left us deeply troubled.

Walking around the corner to the entrance, we saw a group of about 25 people standing outside. The doors to the church were locked, barring them from entering. Signs that read “Capacity Limit Reached” were taped on every door.

We stood there, watching and waiting, for about 10 minutes, as many of these people walked away from the church. Eventually, my husband, daughter and I walked away, too. I’d long known about the logistical issues surrounding a return to in-person worship in the pandemic.

Our church has a maximum capacity of 600 people, but due to the pandemic, capacity was reduced to 150. It’s no secret that the doors were locked at the beginning of services, but seeing this practice in action was shocking.

After spending month after month not attending in-person worship, many people – myself included – are hungry for God’s word. We crave connection with other believers. And personally, I believe the doors can be opened a little wider, while still being safe.

All I could think about was, What if this Sunday was my first impression of the Church? What if the person who turned away from the locked doors turned their back on God as a result? Is physically locking people out of church an effective tool for sharing the Gospel?

Emotions notwithstanding, an examination of fact supports the idea that it is time for regional leadership within churches to reevaluate capacity limits for in-person worship.

We live in a state that hands out COVID vaccines like candy. In Lafayette County alone, we have the second-highest vaccination rate in the state – only a fraction of a percent behind Madison County.

We’re living in a world where we’re allowed to crowd inside a bar or restaurant, sit at sporting events with almost full capacity, shop at the grocery store with few restrictions other than wearing a mask… but churches are choosing to lock their doors on people.

This stance is not advocating against following basic CDC protocols such as maintaining a safe distance or wearing masks. It’s not a call to fling the doors open and cram people inside like sardines.

It is, however, a call to allow congregants to make their own informed choices about attending worship services. It is a call to begin expanding access to worship services in a safe manner.

For the past four years, I’ve attended the same church in Oxford. I’ve been there through an expansion, sat in services where folding chairs were brought in and people were still standing in the wings to hear the word of God. People used to flock to the church in droves.

The decision to lock people out of church is one many will look back on with regret. God calls Christians to share His word with everyone – not the select few on the guest list.