Most Local Houses of Worship to Remain Closed in Phase 2

by | May 28, 2020

The exception is Our Lady of Mercy (above), which will hold Masses this weekend.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

Although houses of worship are allowed to reopen for services this weekend at 25 percent capacity, many have decided to continue with online services. Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church, however, will hold Masses this weekend, with restrictions.

According to Pastor Linda Forsberg at the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Gov. Gina Raimondo had been planning a far more gradual reopening for churches, first allowing 15 people to gather in a church and then, maybe not until August, opening churches up to 50 people at a time. That all changed May 20, when  Raimondo announced houses of worship could reopen in time for the Christian holy day of Pentecost, which is Sunday.

“We were all saying, that’s going to be a lot of work to get to the 50, but we have time to plan,” Pastor Linda said of the governor’s original plan.  

The May 30 date is just too soon, she and other faith leaders said recently. Large groups of people present a risk of spreading COVID-19 and in fact some outbreaks around the country have been linked to worship services. Raimondo’s announcement noted there would have to be changes in addition to the reduced capacity – everything from social distancing and mask wearing in church to no group singing and no passing of the collection plate.

Pastor Linda said her church will begin with an outdoor service starting Sunday, July 12, following a tradition of offering one outdoor service a week during the summer, with spacing and masks. “We don’t want to harm people,” she said. “We don’t want to spread this thing.”

Fr. Bernard Healey, pastor at OLM, said the Diocese of Providence had been hoping public Masses could resume for Pentecost and Catholic churches had been working toward that.

There will be two Masses at OLM, instead of the usual three, Sunday morning, so they can clean thoroughly between Masses. The church holds 700 to 800 people, so around 175 to 200 people will be allowed in; there will be no signup. After Mass, people will be asked to leave promptly, so the church can be cleaned for the next service. 

“We want to keep everybody healthy. The last thing we want is an outbreak at church,” said Fr. Healey. “We have to be very cautious.”

To that end, those with health problems and the elderly are encouraged to stay home. The 10:30 Mass will continue to be live-streamed.

You can find the OLM reopening guidelines HERE.

“As much as I’d love for us to have in-sanctuary worship on Pentecost, we’re not going to do that,” said Fr. Tim Rich of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. “We’re making decisions based on our understanding of the science and the counsel of our team.”

The fact is, he said, many St. Luke’s parishioners are older. 

“People’s health and well-being are at the top of our concerns,” he said. “From there we’ll figure out how to navigate the worship stuff.”

In the meantime, St. Luke’s will continue to offer Sunday services online, as well as holding bible study and other virtual events, such as Fr. Tim’s recent children’s storytime and occasional Zoom coffee hours.

Rev. Bill Trench at the East Greenwich Methodist Church said one difference for his denomination is, “reading of scripture and preaching the word” are the foundations of their service, not the eucharist, as is the case for some other Christian faiths.

To that extent, online services have offered a lot, even as they lack, of course, the warmth of human contact. Rev. Trench said they were planning for resumption of in-person services at some point but said, “There’s going to be a bunch of things that are really difficult.”

He said a recent memorial gift of a new video camera and computer has been a welcome aid to their live streaming capabilities.

Rev. Ellen Quaadgras of Westminster Unitarian Church said their online services have worked remarkably well. It helps that Quaadgras herself comes from a technology background and several tech-savvy parishioners have stepped up too. 

Instead of videotaping portions of the service ahead of time and editing them into a whole, WU holds their Sunday morning service live on Zoom. 

“We set it up so people could see each other in gallery mode,” she said. “For people to be able to see each other even when they can’t see each other.” 

They also feature Zoom coffee hours every week, and include break out rooms so people can connect in smaller groups. “I try to hop around to the different coffee hours,” she said.

In terms of resuming in-person services, Rev. Quaadgras said a lot of WU members are in the vulnerable category, so they aren’t sure yet.

“From my perspective, keeping people safe is paramount but we also want to live our mission,” she said.

At East Greenwich First Baptist, Pastor Jonathan Malone said he’s been pleased how well the videocast services have gone, especially since many in his congregation aren’t necessarily tech savvy. 

Still, some parishioners don’t have email or even the internet –  “That’s a huge challenge,” he acknowledged. “It’s been a lot of phone calls, a lot of phone calls.”

First Baptist has hosted a May Breakfast every year for decades, but not this year.

“That was a hard decision to make,” said Rev. Malone. “It was the right one but it was hard.”

One thing they are doing to stay at least a little connected is to have a drive-by food collection every month. “It gives people a chance to drive up to the church and stay in their cars, to find value and get out of their house and help.”

At Temple Torat Yisrael, Rabbi Aaron Philmus said they are taking things one day at a time, but for now, they have many offerings online, including Shabbat programs on Zoom.  

Pastor Vann Trapp at Christ Church said they’ve tried to lean into the COVID-19 crisis as opposed to just wishing it would go away.

“I have a sense that God’s reshaping a lot of things right now,” he said. 

Like other faith communities, the people of Christ Church are missing the human connection but Pastor Vann said that didn’t mean they would be returning for in-person worship in June. 

“Right now, we’re going off of, ‘What will be best for most?’ and that’s a combination of things,” he said. Reopening is probably not that right now.” 

For Christ Church, 25 percent capacity might be 50 people – “We don’t have the funds or the capability to run back to back services and clean the church as fully as it would need to be.”

He added, “There are other ways to accomplish what we’re trying to accomplish without being in that building.”

If we left out your 02818 faith community, we apologize. You can send information to [email protected].

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Pat Jaehnig
Pat Jaehnig
May 29, 2020 12:01 pm

Kudos to those church leaders and others who understand that just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should…

Linda Anderson
Linda Anderson
May 29, 2020 6:26 pm

We are all so thankful for the FBCEG videocast services. Pastor Malone continues to reach his parishioners with his super tech savvy staff! It will a wonderful time when we can open again but I’m sure we’ll take it slow so everyone stays safe.


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