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'It's been too long' | Sevier County church holds first in-person service in nearly six months

Members of Kodak United Methodist Church gathered in the parking lot with lawn chairs and masks to worship in-person for the first time in nearly half a year.

KODAK, Tenn. — Worshippers at a church in Kodak came together in person again for the first time since the pandemic began. 

After nearly six months, services were held in the church parking lot.

It comes nearly a week after the United Methodist Holston Conference announced churches could resume outdoor worship. 

At Kodak United Methodist Church, the socially distant outdoor service Sunday morning was almost half a year in the making.

The congregation hadn't laid eyes on each other since March when the pandemic hit, and Sunday was the reunion they all had been praying for.

"Just to come here this morning and to look at each other's faces and know that God is still alive in us and we are depending upon God's faithfulness," pastor Melissa Smith said.

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For nearly 90-year-old Nellie Johnson, staying away from where she's grown up praying wasn't easy.

"It sure has been hard for me because I don't have the internet or nothing like that that I can't get their messages, but I do call in," Johnson explained.

Not showing up on the first Sunday back was not an option for her.

"Somebody said 'You're not going, are you?' and I said 'Yes, I've waited 6 months for this day,'" Johnson nodded.

The church tried to have in-person services prior, but COVID-19 cases started rising in Sevier County and the United Methodist Holston Conference announced restrictions a couple of days before the first parking lot service was supposed to happen in July.

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"Our congregation has changed a lot in the last few months," Smith admitted. "We were all online."

Although this wasn't how they wanted to worship, being together was worth camping out in the weather.

"We're going to continue to do this until we get back and we can walk inside the doors," member Ken Tate said. "That's where we need to be."

For now, lawn chairs will have to do as pews and the parking lot will stay as the sanctuary.

"I'm hoping we'll stay together as a group," fifth-grader Alyssa Thomas smiled.

RELATED: Many Methodist churches extend suspension of in-person worship as COVID-19 cases rise