Emerald Coast churches take it to the waves amid pandemic restrictions

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

The COVID-19 pandemic that has swept across the world has forced many to rethink how they do things – and the church is not exempt.

Many have gone to online services on Sundays, while some have even taken it a step further.

Shoreline Church is not only airing their Sunday morning service online, but have taken it to the jumbotron at AJ’s Seafood and Oyster Bar on the Destin harbor as well as Crab Island aboard Splashboards Media's floating billboard.

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“Our first Sunday of church at Crab Island (Memorial Day weekend) exceeded our expectations,” said Matthew Metcalfe, student pastor at Shoreline Church. “As you know, the energy at Crab Island is high on any given weekend but especially on the holidays. One of the standouts for me was that the church service seemed to add to the energy rather than take away from it.”

The floating billboard was ready and Shoreline got things rolling just before 10 a.m. with a few pop songs and high-energy worship songs.

The service on the big screen started at 10 and was finished by 10:40 a.m.

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“Pastors Eric Partin and Graeme Cowgill delivered a great message of grace and hope that quieted Crab Island in a way that I have never witnessed before,” Metcalfe said.

He said this past Sunday there were a lot of locals that came out as well as several rental pontoons that anchored near the Betty G. There were even a few chartered boats that stopped to listen, Metcalfe said.

“All the feedback we have received has been very positive,” Metcalfe said. “At Shoreline, we believe that the church was never meant to be about the building, but about the people. And we love being an active part of the community where we live. That’s why we plan to be out at Crab Island and at AJ’s all summer long.

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"If you see a boat with a black Shoreline Church flag, feel free to wave us down. You can also text the word CREW to 850-972-2575 to receive automatic text message updates for church at Crab Island,“ he added.

Church will be broadcast on the jumbotron at AJ’s at 10 a.m. as well. For more information go to

As for Life Impact Church, Pastor John Skiles said their building located in Gulf View Plaza is just not big enough for them to meet with the social distancing guidelines that are currently in place. So they are taking their church outdoors.

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Starting this Sunday and throughout the month of June they will be meeting at Mattie Kelly Arts Village off Commons Drive behind Grace Lutheran for services.

“We chose this location because it is a fun, heartbeat of a location for our community and we wanted to come back together and it feel like a ’big family reunion.’ And (we) have plenty of room for everyone,” Skiles said.

Life Impact Church will be providing coffee and water and will be practicing social distancing of six feet.

“We have a field that holds thousands,” he said.

Skiles encouraged folks to bring a lawn chair or a blanket.

“I would suggest an umbrella, in case the sun is doing well,” he said.

However, umbrellas have to be handheld or clip-ons. They can’t screw into the ground.

“We love our city and invite anyone to worship God with us. All are welcome. We invite our city,” he said.

Services begin at 10 a.m.

The congregation at Immanuel Anglican located near Indian Bayou Golf and Country Club have taken it outdoors as well.

According to pastor Caleb Miller, they have been meeting at their outdoor chapel behind the building since May 17.

“We have a large tent and a few pop-up tents for shade, as well as some mature trees,” Miller said.

For the past two weeks, Miller said services have been about half the number of their normal congregation. The outdoor service begins at 9 a.m. and they continue to offer a livestream service as well at 10:30 a.m.

“We’re making our decision about outdoor worship week-by-week,” Miller said. “We've already prepared the inside worship space for social distancing and 50 percent capacity, so if it rains or gets unpleasantly warm, we can transition indoors and observe the recommended guidelines for social distancing.”

Dr. Karen Chapman and Sydney Harper of the Okaloosa County Health Department consulted with Immanuel on their outdoor plan.

“They have been great to work with and very helpful. Our leadership continues to listen to Gov. DeSantis, the Health Department, and the CDC as we prepare for the next steps in re-gathering,” Miller said.