The Rev. Joseph Guy has been planning since January to open Open Arms Community Church on Easter Sunday.
That is still his plan.
At 6 p.m on Easter Sunday, April 12, Open Arms Community Church is scheduled to hold an Easter service with what Guy expects will be 35 to 50 church members. That could make it the only church in town where Easter will be celebrated in a worshipper-filled sanctuary.
Because of the coronavirus outbreak, many Christian churches in Southern Nevada have canceled in-person services, serving worshippers’ spiritual needs instead through video or live streamed services. Some hope to resume live services by Easter, but most are waiting to see what the next couple of weeks brings.
Guy, lead pastor of Open Arms Community Church, 2800 W. Sahara Ave., said the congregation’s decision to hold a live Easter service is a way to meet congregants’ needs and reinforce that “Christians shouldn’t take a hands-off approach when faith gets tough.”
Church members have been meeting for about a year, mostly in small groups, Guy said. Plans to inaugurate the church with an Easter service were made before the coronoavirus outbreak hit.
“Unfortunately, nobody saw this coming when we started making plans,” he said.
Holding a live worship service on Easter isn’t strange, he said, given that Southern Nevadans are leaving their homes to shop, get takeout meals and work.
“I look at it this way: You’re going to the store regardless. We all do. Why put your faith on hold if you don’t put your career on hold?
“People are still going out and aren’t totally locked down, doing nothing.”
However, Guy said worshippers will be required to adhere to sanitary protocols.
“We’re not going to let the crowd get too big. If there are 50 in the main room, we’re going to move the rest to an auxiliary room,” he said. To promote social distancing, “we will widen the rows a bit,” sanitation stations will be placed on either side of the sanctuary and communion probably won’t be distributed.
Some churches in Southern Nevada are using technology to bridge the gap between in-person worship and safety, but Guy said he doesn’t believe technology captures the sense of community found in live worship.
“This is coming from a guy with two undergraduate degrees in technology,” he said. “I’ve been to a lot of churches before, planning this, getting ideas. And not that (technology) isn’t good, but you leave the service feeling, in a way, a little empty.”
Guy said he had thought about canceling the service, “but then I talked with my board of elders. We didn’t feel like it was the right thing to do. Easter is a pretty big celebratory day for the church.
“I think that we might be the only church open in the city (on Easter). I know when I talked to pastor friends, the feeling is, ‘Shut down the church.’ But I feel like Christians aren’t doing enough to step up and do their part.”
For Guy, leading services on Easter would amount to a particularly strong act of faith.
“I was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at age 14, so I have to take medication to control it,” he said. Because the medication compromises Guy’s own immune system, “if I get (coronavirus), I may not be able to fight it off as well as other people.
“But as leader of a congregation, I’m not going to sit and tremble in fear. What kind of example would that set?”