Skip to comments.As Trump calls for churches to open, some faith leaders say they arenít ready to gather in sanctuary
Posted on 05/22/2020 5:35:55 PM PDT by lightman
The Rev. Anna Reeves considers herself fortunate that her church, St. Pauls Evangelical Lutheran Church in Silver Spring Twp., sits on sprawling property.
Its just a wonderful place for outdoor activity, she said.
On Sunday, Reeves is going to take advantage of that ample outdoor space and use it to gather with her congregation in worship while adhering to strict social distancing protocol to protect her faith community from the coronavirus.
I dont think its safe yet to go into the sanctuary. Its really not, she said. Our plan is to abide clearly by the states guidelines of having no more than 25 people gathering with clearly lots of social distancing and the wearing of face masks. We are asking everyone to bring their own lawn chairs so we have minimal sanitizing to do. That way we can actually space people apart quite a good way and literally minimize contact. There's not going to be any common touching.
St. Pauls Evangelical Lutheran Church is one of hundreds of churches in York and Cumberland counties. On Friday, both counties partially reopened for business after being designated for the states color-coded reopening plan.
Reeves is playing it safe by opting to hold multiple worship services outdoors.
If the weather does not cooperate on Sunday, Reeves said shell continue live-streaming the worship service as she has been doing since the state went on virtual lockdown in mid-March.
If the infection rate keeps reducing over the summer, we might, and that's just a maybe, we might proceed with services outside and maybe one inside, Reeves said. That would be further down. Like the governor we have three phases: outdoor, outdoor plus indoor and then indoor. The indoor phase we don't even want to think about it, at this point. I dont think its safe for anybody to go back into the sanctuary.
Under Gov. Tom Wolfs stay-at-home guidance, religious organizations have been largely exempt from shutdown orders, however, religious leaders have been encouraged to find alternatives to in-person gatherings to safeguard the health of their congregants. Health officials have advised that individuals refrain from not gather in religious buildings or homes for services or celebrations until the stay at home order is lifted.
Under the states guidelines for reopening, large gatherings are still not permitted. Gatherings are limited to 25 people.
Even so, some faith leaders are abiding by strict guidelines to protect their congregation. Many say that even though their county is reopened under the yellow phase, they do not feel comfortable bringing their communities together.
When Jesus talked about the two great commandments, they were love of God and love of thy neighbor, and the more we learn about COVID-19, the more it seems the loving thing to do to not have have a situation where you are inside in a confined space communal singing and communal talking, said Rev. Alex Martini, of St. Peter Lutheran Church in Mechanicsburg. That's what church is about in a lot of ways. To limit those risky behaviors for the sake of our vulnerable neighbors and community makes sense to us.
President Donald Trump, by contrast, is calling for churches to reopen.
The president on Friday said he has deemed churches and other houses of worship essential and called on governors to allow them to reopen this weekend.
Trump said that if governors don't abide by his request, he will "override" them, though it's unclear what authority he has to do so.
Martini has been live streaming worship services, and said he would continue to do so until at least June 5. On Friday, Wolf said all of Pennsylvania will be lifted from the states stay-at-home order by June 5, and 18 counties will move to the green phase May 29.
The general idea is that we are going to follow the letter and spirit of the yellow phase, Martini said. Anything we can do online via zoom we are going to do and continue to limit the use of the building.
Martini estimates that services will continue to be held online through the summer.
My bet is we are not going to be having any sort of in building worship until the fall, he said.
Indeed, church communities across the country have been rocked by coronavirus-related deaths and illness after congregations bucked lockdown orders and gathered with parishioners to lethal results.
A church choir practice in Washington, for example, attended by 61 people on March 10, resulted in 53 COVID-19 cases and 2 deaths. One of the members of the Skagit Valley Chorale practice had cold-like symptoms.
Just this week, churches in Georgia and Texas - two states at the forefront of reopening efforts - closed their doors after reopening after members tested positive for coronavirus. Catoosa Baptist Tabernacle in Ringgold, Ga., and Holy Ghost Catholic Church in Houston have indefinitely suspended services.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week called on faith-based organizations to coordinate with local health officials to implement reopening guidelines.
Martini takes those hard lessons seriously.
Our sanctuary is not huge. If things were normal we would have it pretty full, he said. To think of all those aerosolized droplets going into that space... it is not wise, or safe or the faithful thing to do right now.
His congregation can see as many as 140 people at worship service.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health reported 866 new coronavirus cases Friday, raising the statewide total to 66,258. Across Pennsylvania, 4,984 fatalities have been tied to the coronavirus, including 115 newly reported deaths Friday.
The Diocese of Harrisburg, which represents more than a quarter of a million parishioners across 15 counties, has provided guidelines for parishes in the yellow zone. These include the dispensation from the Sunday obligation to attend Mass. All Mass livestreams will continue.
Masks are required for parishioners attending Mass; and they are to be removed only to receive communion, which will be distributed after Mass not during. Holy water fonts will remain empty; and all hymnals and missals have been removed from the pews. The Sign of Peace will continue to be omitted.
Bishop Ronald Gainer has asked members of the Catholic community to not cross counties when churches begin to reopen, in order to ensure parishioners have primary access to their own parish churches and to respect the governments stay-at-home order.
In addition to Cumberland and York, the counties that opened under the yellow phase on Friday include Adams, Beaver, Carbon, Columbia, Juniata, Mifflin, Perry, Susquehanna, Wyoming and Wayne.
Reeves plans to put in place adjustments to the worship service, including assigning two ushers to distribute hand sanitizer to those who attend the outdoor service.
She will also distribute pre-packaged communion wafer and wine after the service. The wine is prepackaged in a small plastic cup.
Normally its part of the service, Reeves said. We cant have that right now.
Martini added that a number of his congregants are in health care, and their voices encouraging everyone to practice social distancing have had a major impact on his faith community.
That message has gotten through the congregation, he said.
These misleaders have surrendered Scripture to science and forgotten that from Genesis to Revelation God constantly declares
"Do not be afraid....
Please ping me with articles of interest.
FReepmail me to be added to the list.
* as of August 19, AD 2009, a liberal protestant SECT, not part of the holy, catholic and apostolic CHURCH.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
Let every congregation do as it is called to do.
Liberal denominations will refuse to reopen in support of their Democrat masters.
Not ready - dont open. Its really not that hard.
Aye...it should be THEIR decision.
Even if I think they are deciding the wrong way and for very wrong reasons...their choice, not mine, and especially not the Governor’s!
Have multiple services; space apart; Sunday School is not a necessity, just have worship services; have hand sanitizing stations, etc. There is no reason to wait.
“....Even if I think they are deciding the wrong way and for very wrong reasons...their choice, not mine, and especially not the Governors!....”
Exactly. It’s the individual’s church’s decision.....Not some godless, devil-worshipping RAT communist. We American old timers have a name for it: It’s called “freedom”. They’re free to stay shut down or free to open.
As if Trump is forcing churches that are not ready to open, to open?
The various “Council of Churches” are spawn of satan.
Been to church twice in the last two weeks. Indoors. No one forced me to go, and no one had better try forcing me to NOT go!
Some faith leaders. We found a couple but we had to look real hard.
He gave them freedom to choose, not orders to open. Personally I think every church in America should ring its bells on Sunday at noon, whether they hold services or not.
ECLA probably. Very leftie.
It is quite obvious. The Christian left will obey their true god DNC.
What will they say when Jesus returns for faithful believers, wed love to go with You, but were just not ready - yet,
They can open for one service on Sunday.
Its its not like these Churches have many members.
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