CINCINNATI, Ohio — Sunday, July 19 was scheduled to be opening day for Crossroad's ten buildings across Ohio and Kentucky, but as coronavirus cases worsened in the region, the megachurch had to make other plans.
Instead, Senior Pastor Brian Tome hosted the first in-person Crossroads worship outdoors at Yeatman's Cove, along Cincinnati's riverfront.
"The church was never meant to be confined to buildings," he said. "As soon as the move of Christ needs a building, it’s in trouble.”
To slow the spread of COVID-19, the tens of thousands in the Crossroads congregation have relied on virtual services for their weekly worship, but on Sunday, Tome said it was time to come together.
“Truth of the matter is in Christianity we need to one another one another," he said. "We need to love one another. We need to support one another and it’s just not the same when you’re looking at a screen.”
So far, Tome has services at Yeatman's Cove planned for the next month, though he said Crossroads will continue offering online options.
“If you want to come, great," he said. "If you don’t want to come, you’re not a second-class Crossroads citizen and you’re not second class before God’s eyes."
To try and make the outdoor services as safe as possible, Crossroads staff set up flags throughout the park to mark places six feet apart and required anyone attending to wear a mask.
“They told us to social distance, we’re doing everything we can to have people social distance. They told us to wear masks, we’re wearing masks," Tome said. "I think we’re being good citizens.”
Crossroads worked with the Cincinnati Parks Department to secure the space and mitigate risks associated with coronavirus.
"They thought that it would be good for their citizens, they thought that there was a constitutional requirement for First Amendment to be able to allow churches to meet outside and they’ve been very very supportive and encouraging," Tome said.
With social distancing, the park has a capacity of about 4,000 and the first service on Sunday appeared to come close.
For Joe Domiano, a parishioner from the Crossroads in Mason, the chance to gather was worth all the city and church restrictions.
"It’s like ‘Oh we’re getting back to church!’ We’re getting back to some semblance of normalcy,” he said.
Domiano said he'd been following the virtual services over the past few months but something was missing.
"Even though it’s a big church, even though there’s a lot of people in the church, you still feel like you’re part of the family because we’re all there for the same purpose," he said.
Domiano said Tome has been preaching since the buildings closed that church is not a building, but he said seeing that church family helped drive those words home.
"It still is the church even though we don’t have four walls and a roof over top of us," he said.
Crossroads announced buildings will remain closed through 2020 and the church is planning to continue outdoor and online services every week in the meantime.