Teresa Moten

File/ The Outlook

Teresa Harrell Moten (arm raised) visits with then-Senator Doug Jones in 2018.

Teresa Harrell Moten, evangelist, has been waiting to go back to church for a year now.

"I'm not just trying to get in a physical building," Moten said. "I'm trying to get back in the place we were when we were a congregation."

While places of worship in Alabama were only ordered to shut for a month, since May, many have adopted restrictions, according to both the state's guidance and their own discretion.

Moten's church, Haven United Methodist Church in Alexander City, has had its doors shut for almost a year now. However, while Moten runs her own Way Ministries in addition to having a leadership role at Haven United Methodist Church, she makes clear her views are her own, "as a minister, as a woman of God, as a mother, grandmother and community person."

Over the past year, different churches have been exercising varying levels of precaution. Some are congregating with limited occupancy, some are delivering sermons via Zoom and some have halted activities like youth groups and church choir. Haven United Methodist Church has been holding outdoor services.

Moten, however, yearns for the day when all churches can be entered and exited freely, like a public library.

"The lord's house is a whosoever house," she said. "It's a revolving door. And when the door opens, whoever came in came in, if they didn't want to come, they didn't have to come. If you want to be late, you be late; if you wanted to come two minutes before the church was over you could come."

Moten is no COVID-denier — indeed, she estimates she's handed out about 200 masks to people she sees without them.

"Even as a minister, I believe in God, I believe in miracles, but I believe I'm a human being, you're a human being and human beings have germs," she said. "Ain't no germs in heaven but down here we've got to do the appropriate hygiene."

Instead, Moten says churches should be able to operate under the same precautions as schools, grocery stores and other places deemed essential.

"When we were started having church close and people were talking about who's important and they didn't put my God in it, I thought 'Oh my God,'" she said. "What you're saying is my God is not essential?"

Moten said she went to discount store Roses and bought a hat on which she wrote "God is Essential." She likens church duties to work duties.

"It's like in the natural (world) — if you're not doing your job, you're going to get fired," she said. "Well God is my boss. If we're not doing God's work and his will, we're not going to make it to God's kingdom."

Moten, a Sunday school teacher, also worries about the experiences children are missing out on.

"A year out of church for me as a preacher and my grandchildren, that's a year gone in those babies' lives," she said. "That's a year of seeing children come to sing 'Jesus loves me this I know.' That's a year of telling about Moses and the Red Sea opening up."

Moten knows her views are controversial not just in her own church but the community; however, she's used to inviting controversy.

"A lot of people don't believe in women ministers and I got hit hard by that in ministry," she said.

While Alabama COVID-19 hospitalizations have dropped drastically from their peak in mid-January, in the last two months, Tallapoosa County cases have been plateauing at about 15-20 new cases per day. Earlier this month, Gov. Kay Ivey said Alabama's mask mandate will end for good on April 9, at which point mask-wearing will be a matter of "personal responsibility."

Even if there's light at the end of the tunnel, however, Moten worries about those who will miss out in the meantime if churches continue to wait.  

"Somebody's not going to make it back to those open doors," she said. "Because death is out here every day."