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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – One Huntsville church is preparing to return to virtual worship for the foreseeable future after months of in-person services.

After seeing the number of cases spike in Madison County, First Baptist Church Senior Pastor Travis Collins and his team decided it would be safest to switch to virtual streaming.

Collins said this was a difficult day, saying he can’t help but think about the same service last year.

“A year ago, this building would’ve been teaming with people, music echoing off the walls, hugs and handshakes,” Pastor Collins said.

Pastor Collins said the team’s recent decision to revert to virtual services comes after consulting Huntsville Hospital CEO David Spillers about COVID-19 hospitalization numbers. He also spoke to healthcare workers within his own congregation.

“One young lady especially who expressed to me how weary our healthcare workers are, not just weary because of the work, but because of the death,” he said.

For the past few months, churchgoers have had the option to stream services or attend in-person as well.

This is the second time FBC has temporarily limited worship to streaming; the first six-week suspension came in March when COVID-19 cases spiked in the area.

Church leaders plan to meet and talk about updates on the status of COVID-19 and the church later in January.

Virtual services start each Sunday at 8:15 with their first fellowship worship. At 10:30 they will stream their sanctuary worship on News 19 and on their website.

Viewers can also watch older streams of services if they want; those can be found on the church’s page.

Collins said during this time of virtual worship, they hope to ready the now-empty church for the congregation’s return to the pews by installing bacteria-killing UV lights, which will be installed in the church’s HVAC system.

Collins said there is a bright spot amid the uncertainty. They are launching a new 30-minute broadcast on WHDF on Sunday mornings, in addition to their current livestream plan on WHNT. Pastor Collins said the new service is offered for those “who might not be accustomed to church culture,” he said.

“There will be a community segment, there will be a short message. There will be really great music so we believe we have been prompted by the pandemic into this new avenue of getting the message out,” Pastor Collins said.

Church leaders say they will continue monitoring COVID-19 cases in Madison County to determine when it’s time to return to worshipping together again.