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Don’t mess with Texas, COVID-19: this church packed the pews on Sunday

A Texas pastor beheld the familiar faces of 150 congregants Sunday despite the ban on in-person worship amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The worshipers – in very un-churchlike fashion – had gathered in the pews closest to the pulpit.

Pastor Eric Conaway sets up for his sermon.

What Erin Conaway, pastor of Seventh and James Baptist Church in Waco, saw that morning were photos of church members taped to the pews by associate pastors Leslie and Matt Rosencrans.

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Matt got the idea from a Twitter post about a Catholic church in Italy, which has been ravaged by the disease. He and Leslie put the project together since they were among the few people allowed into the church.

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“The act of preaching is a community exercise,” Matt explained. “It’s hard to preach in an empty room, even if you know people are watching on their screens in their homes. We wanted our pastor to have this visual reminder that our congregation was there with him as he preached.”

The Rosencranses couldn’t resist adding some humor. The “congregation” included comedian Ellen Degeneres, singer-songwriter John Legend, actor Tom Hanks and Henri, the couple’s 11-year-old cocker spaniel.

Conaway was impressed by the gesture and appreciated the humor.

Actor Tom Hanks was among several “guests” at the church’s worship service.

“This was my first time to get to preach to John Legend, and there’s nothing quite like telling a joke and then looking down to see a smiling Ellen Degeneres,” he said.

“But, as good as that was, it paled in comparison to seeing the people I love smiling back at me. They weren’t where they normally sit, because they were all on the first three rows, but it made a huge difference to see faces to go with the spirits gathered in the sanctuary for worship.”

The irony of selecting Hanks was not lost on Conaway’s resourceful colleagues. Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, recently announced that they are in self-quarantine at a private residence in Australia after both contracted the COVID-19 virus and received hospital treatment.

“We chose the pre-virus Tom Hanks,” Matt quipped, before thinking of a better line:

“But people with viruses need church too.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: BNG is committed to providing timely and helpful news and commentary about ways Christians and churches are responding to the coronavirus pandemic. Look for the hashtag #intimeslikethese. You can also use this form to help us identify compelling stories of faith and ministry in these challenging times.

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