Alabama pastor closes church and restarts online service due to coronavirus

First Baptist Tillman's Corner in Alabama moves back to online services after some members get coronavirus.

(CNN)An Alabama pastor has shut down his church after several staff and members tested positive for the coronavirus.

Rev. Derek Allen, pastor of First Baptist Tillman's Corner in Mobile, says the church is now going back to online services.
"We shut down the church before the state even asked us," Allen said. "We had already put plans into place on how we would continue on."
Allen said the church, which has about 1,500 members, had been holding only online services during the coronavirus lockdown. But it reopened, following health guidelines, after restrictions were lifted.
    Allen said the church practiced social distancing. The usual 1,000 occupancy sanctuary was cut down to 130 people per service, he said. The church added up to five services a day just to accommodate everyone.
    Church members also wore masks and the church was cleaned regularly, he added.
    Rev. Derek Allen, pastor of First Baptist Church Tillman's Corner, says a wave of infections are spreading through the church.

    'Assume every sniffle is Covid-19, and act quickly'

    When a staff member said they were experiencing Covid-19 symptoms, that quickly ballooned into several others experiencing symptoms and eventually testing positive, he said.
    "One week from the time I received the first phone call reporting symptoms, we were aware of more than a dozen people showing symptoms," Allen wrote in a blog post.
    He also wrote that isolation and social distancing work, and said that he believes the reason the virus hasn't spread faster and further in the church community is because sick people were isolated. The infections can be traced back to the few occasions social distancing policies were not followed properly, Allen wrote.
    He added that one of the lessons he has learned is to "assume every sniffle is Covid-19 and act quickly."

    'Don't get caught in the political conversation'

    Allen is also warning other pastors to prioritize their members ahead of any political messages around Covid-19.
    "Don't get caught in the political conversation, be concerned about your local flock. And if you have any hesitation, err on the side of caution," Allen told CNN.
    Allen added it's hard to see so many of his members sick and hurting, but said to his knowledge, none are in a life-threatening situation. He added that Covid-19 is a serious illness and it has been a harrowing and demoralizing journey for the church members who got it.
      To keep the members of his church safe, Allen has decided to leave the church doors shuttered and go back to online services for the month of July. But he added, "What is right for my church is not necessarily right for another person's church."
      Meanwhile, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has extended the state's safer-at-home order until July 31. She has also extended the state's public health emergency until September 9.