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Sixty African American faith leaders work together to create church reopening guidelines

With little to no guidance on how to reopen sanctuaries, faith leaders in Knoxville's African American community took matters into their own hands.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee churches have been allowed to hold in-person worship for a couple weeks now, but not many have done so, saying they don't feel ready.

That includes dozens of faith organizations in Knoxville's African American community, where 60 faith leaders have been working together create their own reopening guidelines.

With little to no guidance elsewhere, they took matters into their own hands.

"Every church will be different, sizes are different, their traditions are different, so we will have to adjust," said Cynthia J. Finch, organizer of the Faith Leaders Reopening Initiative.

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She worked with Vice Mayor Gwen McKenzie, the Knox County Health Department, UT Medical Center, and the CDC's website to put a reopening plan together for 60 churches in the African American community.

"Reports show that African Americans are disproportionately impacted by this virus so it's important to us as a community to make sure that our people are safe," said Finch.

Pastors from each church have had weekly conference calls talking through how screening, social distancing and worshiping will go hand in hand.

"We as a group have said we're gonna require people to wear a mask, we're gonna have people to sit in family groupings," said Finch.

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She said churches will do temperature checks and have attendees sign in, so they can track who was at church if someone gets sick.

Children's services won't start up right away, and they urge older churchgoers to be the last to return, and stay home if anyone feels sick.

"People want to come to their churches, but they also want to be safe, and they also want to live," said Finch.

The group put together faith leader tool boxes for each church and distributed them Thursday.

Inside the boxes were thermometers, gloves, cleaning supplies, signage and a printed copy of the group's reopening guidelines.

RELATED: CDC highlights coronavirus outbreak at rural Arkansas church

"We just don't want to be in the newspaper to say, 'church reopened and someone was infected and they came to church and now 180 people were infected.' We don't want that message to be about Knoxville, Tennessee."

Many of these churches don't plan to open this weekend.

They're looking ahead to June after all safety measures are in place.