Church attendance in Houston area down amid COVID-19 crisis

President Trump declared Sunday a "National Day of Prayer" and joined others across our nation in watching services online.

But some continue going to church services as cases of the coronavirus are on the rise.

Sunday morning, the site of Lakewood Church was unusually quiet with no lines, no traffic, and no church services.

Volunteers stood by with fliers to inform unknowing visitors that the church was closed but they could live stream service.

"There have been much worse situations, and they didn’t cancel things like this," says one traveler from New Jersey who didn't find out about the cancellation until he and his wife got to Houston.  "But it is what it is," he shrugs while they take a few pictures in front of the Lakewood sign.

Thursday, Harris County officials urged organizations to postpone any gatherings of more than 250 people. The megachurch typically draws in thousands every weekend.

However, smaller congregations continue getting together. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner attended the 155th anniversary of Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church in West Houston, also issuing a proclamation honoring the church for its service to the elderly.

"Before the coronavirus, God was. In the midst of the coronavirus, God is!" exclaimed Turner from the pulpit.

There were noticeably fewer people in the pews for the service, and in between worshippers, plenty of room was left for the Lord.

"For the time being, we are not shaking hands," says one member Josh Gibson. "We're trying to be as safe as we possibly can be."
Although several churches are offering services online services, it hasn’t stopped many from going to pray in person.

At the Catholic Charismatic Center near Downtown, the parking lot was far from empty, and parishioners say Sunday yielded a typical crowd. 

"It feels good to have service today and keep doing our daily routine because we don’t have fear of what’s coming and what's here," says Daniel Hernandez.

In response to COVID 19, Catholic churches are giving exemptions from attending Sunday Mass while communion and some other practices continue.

"Our priest has given us the necessary warnings and told us about precautions we can take," says attendee Carolyn Hughes. "Those of us who do not want to hold hands or shake hands- we do not have to do that." 

Worshippers say they won't stop coming to church and are leaning on each other even more since the outbreak began. They say they seek a sense of closeness during a time of social distancing, some still greeting one another with hugs and kisses, even against recommendations.

But the churchgoers' also stress their belief in the power of prayer and stepping out on faith, believing that COVID-19 is just like any other plague in the Bible, and it too shall pass.