pastor joe wampler

BACK TO IT — Pastor Joe Wampler preaches during an online sermon on May 3. Last Sunday, his church returned to in-person services.

With the state allowing churches to resume in-person services starting on May 8, Grace Apostolic Ministries didn’t miss a beat.

On Mother’s Day, Pastor Joe Wampler welcomed his congregation back, and he said it was a great feeling not only for him to pastor to live audience but also for his members to be able to interact after going nearly two months with virtual services only.

“It was fantastic,” Wampler said. “That’s that longest I’ve ever went in my entire life and probably the longest that, I’d say, 50 percent of our congregation had ever been without being in church. It was great. People are ready to get back.”

The turnout was great, too, Wampler said. The church boasts a membership of around 65 to 70, and the pastor said upwards of 90 percent showed up for the Mother’s Day service on May 10. Those who opted to stay home generally were older and in the at-risk population.

Wampler said precautions were taken to ensure his members’ safety, including providing masks and hand sanitizer, and only families sat in the same rows. There was no handshaking, though some opted to bump elbows, while others saluted.

The pastor said he felt it was important to bring his members out of isolation as soon as he safely could, as he said being alone and without much social interaction takes a big toll on people’s mental health.

“I think people realize there are really no lone rangers in life, and even the lone ranger had Tonto,” he said. “I think people realize that God was right when he told Adam it’s not good for man to be alone. There are a lot of people who think they want to be alone, but they really don’t want to be alone. They want to be around people at their leisure. When you’re told you can’t be around people, it takes on a different dynamic.”

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While the church continued services virtually during the shutdown, Wampler said it wasn’t the same. He saw big success with online views – his Easter service was viewed more than 2,200 times – but he doesn’t want people to rely on the internet to worship moving forward.

The church will continue offering the sermons virtually, but it will be by request only.

“We’re not going to do live (streaming). We’re going to make it where you have to request to watch our services online. We’re not going to make it where just anybody can watch. This is something you can put in there: as a pastor, I don’t want people to use Facebook or online services to replace face-to-face interaction. I don’t want that, and I think that’s a concern and an issue,” Wampler said.

The pastor acknowledged that not all churches decided to resume in-person services as soon as he did, but he said each pastor knows their congregation best and what’s best for them.

“Each pastor is a shepherd, and he’s responsible for what he thinks is best for his flock. He knows his sheep better than others, so if that’s what he feels, then he is the leader of the flock. They’ll be accountable. He needs to do what he feels is best for the congregation,” he said. “I wouldn’t fault a man who didn’t want to, and I wouldn’t judge a man who did.”

With the state allowing churches to resume in-person services starting on May 8, Grace Apostolic Ministries didn’t miss a beat. On Mother’s Day, Pastor Joe Wampler welcomed his congregation back, and he said it was a great feeling not only for him to pastor to live audience but also for his members to be able to interact after going nearly two months with virtual services only. “It was fantastic,” Wampler said. “That’s that longest I’ve ever went in my entire life and probably the longest that, I’d say, 50 percent of our congregation had ever been without being in church. It was great. People are ready to get back.” The turnout was great, too, Wampler said. The church boasts a membership of around 65 to 70, and the pastor said upwards of 90 percent showed up for the Mother’s Day service on May 10. Those who opted to stay home generally were older and in the at-risk population. Wampler said precautions were taken to ensure his members’ safety, including providing masks and hand sanitizer, and only families sat in the same rows. There was no handshaking, though some opted to bump elbows, while others saluted. The pastor said he felt it was important to bring his members out of isolation as soon as he safely could, as he said being alone and without much social interaction takes a big toll on people’s mental health. “I think people realize there are really no lone rangers in life, and even the lone ranger had Tonto,” he said. “I think people realize that God was right when he told Adam it’s not good for man to be alone. There are a lot of people who think they want to be alone, but they really don’t want to be alone. They want to be around people at their leisure. When you’re told you can’t be around people, it takes on a different dynamic.” While the church continued services virtually during the shutdown, Wampler said it wasn’t the same. He saw big success with online views – his Easter service was viewed more than 2,200 times – but he doesn’t want people to rely on the internet to worship moving forward. The church will continue offering the sermons virtually, but it will be by request only. “We’re not going to do live (streaming). We’re going to make it where you have to request to watch our services online. We’re not going to make it where just anybody can watch. This is something you can put in there: as a pastor, I don’t want people to use Facebook or online services to replace face-to-face interaction. I don’t want that, and I think that’s a concern and an issue,” Wampler said. The pastor acknowledged that not all churches decided to resume in-person services as soon as he did, but he said each pastor knows their congregation best and what’s best for them. “Each pastor is a shepherd, and he’s responsible for what he thinks is best for his flock. He knows his sheep better than others, so if that’s what he feels, then he is the leader of the flock. They’ll be accountable. He needs to do what he feels is best for the congregation,” he said. “I wouldn’t fault a man who didn’t want to, and I wouldn’t judge a man who did.”