The Northern Virginia Daily | Colin McGuire | July 5, 2020
The inability to attend church each week has been one of the most affecting consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to social distancing guidelines, it’s been nearly impossible for congregations around the country to gather in ways they were accustomed to prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.
As states begin to reopen, however, so are religious activities. Kevin Seager, the senior pastor for the Norwalk Alliance Church in Norwalk, Ohio, said earlier this week that his church began a particular reopening of in-person services in early June. Yet even with that in mind, he acknowledged how hard it’s been to get things up and running again as Ohio transitions into its latest re-opening phase.
“This phase is actually the trickiest because we knew how to handle (being) completely shut down,” he said, “but this is kind of at the in-between, where you can hear a different thing every week. Eventually, this will go by, and we can get back to doing things as we’ve done it, but for the moment, out of love for our neighbor, we’re going to forego some of the things that have been one of the best ways that we like to do church — for example, singing a whole bunch of songs.
“We’re having to do things differently,” he concluded, “and that’s a challenge.”
Our reporters spoke with churches in 11 different states to see where they are with their reopening plans and what comes next as they hope to begin the process of regularly gathering to worship together.
Outbreaks at churches have contributed to rising COVID-19 numbers in West Virginia. That hasn’t happened at the Ash Avenue Church of God in Moundsville, but they are prepared, Pastor C.J. Plogger said. If a member tests positive, people will be notified via automated phone call and online.
“We’ve said if we had three cases we would go back to streaming online,” Plogger said.
In-person services halted the last two Sundays in March and resumed May 24. Every other row was sectioned off to promote social distancing, and gloves and masks are provided, Plogger said. Boxes have been set up to receive offerings so no ushers are passing collection plates, and communion is served using individually wrapped wafers and cups.
“We’ve not had any greeters yet because we don’t want multiple contacts,” Plogger said.
Plogger believes community is one of the most important aspects of the Christian faith.
“We all have challenges; we all have lessons to learn, so we can come together and lift each other up,” he said.
While worshipping online is not the same, Plogger said some people — including members of his family — have additional risk factors to consider that are still keeping them from in-person worship.
“We want to support them,” he said of people who cannot attend or don’t feel comfortable doing so. “I’m doing a lot of calls, but I have not done a lot of home visits.”
After two months of offering services completely online, Fredericktowne Baptist Church in Walkersville welcomed parishioners back on June 7. A week earlier, they went through a “dry run … where we had only ministry workers come in, just to get used to the new protocols,” Senior Pastor Tim Allen said.
Those steps included registering attendees, making sure they were wearing masks and guiding them to their seats. The auditorium’s removable seats were rearranged into socially distant blocks where families coul sit together while maintaining at least six feet between themselves and other groups. The church building is large enough that they have plenty of room for those attending, even with an occupancy limit of 50 percent of capacity, Allen said.
Allen said worshipping together is important, encouraged in the Book of Hebrews. But Allen also acknowledged Christians can be connected spiritually if they worship through electronic means because they are at greater risk of contracting the virus or don’t yet feel comfortable venturing out.
The Frederick area is home to about 1,500 Muslims, said Dr. Syed Haque, chairman of the outreach committee for the Islamic Society of Frederick. Many of them gather for Friday prayers, comparable to a Sunday service at a Christian church, and a variety of other activities at the ISF Masjid in Frederick.
But those gatherings were put on hold from March 23 to the first weekend in June, Haque said. Eid Day, the May 24 gathering to mark the end of Ramadan that usually draws 3,000 people, was not held because of the pandemic, he said.
“For eight Fridays, we could not go,” he said.
In Provo and Ogden, Utah, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is “strictly following the guidance of governments to prevent the spread of the pandemic,” according to media relations manager Irene Caso.
Both the Ogden Utah Temple and the Provo Utah Temple are only opened under Phase 1 limited operations, meaning the temples are only open for living sealings.
“At this time, only husband-and-wife living sealings are being performed for members who have already received their endowment,” the respective websites state. “Sealings will be performed by appointment only and limited to couples residing in a designated geographic area.”
Worship services do not occur in the temples but rather in meetinghouses.