Churches tentatively plan reopenings

Congregation Tikkun v’Or plans to discuss on-site services in its June board meeting while other Lansing religious communities tentatively edge toward resuming worship in the “new normal.”
Congregation Tikkun v’Or plans to discuss on-site services in its June board meeting while other Lansing religious communities tentatively edge toward resuming worship in the “new normal.”
Photo by Matt Montague

Lansing’s houses of worship are making tentative plans to restore on-site worship for their members, pending changes in the pandemic and the state’s responses.

“We plan on having regular services beginning on Sunday, June 7, with CDC and state guidelines in place including the wearing of masks and limiting attendance to 10 persons,” said Father Matthew Binkewicz of Saint George Orthodox Church.

In the meantime, Sunday Divine Liturgy is recorded and posted on the church website, he said, a practice that has been in place since mid-March due to COVID-19 precautions.

“We have been having at least two Zoom services per week since we went into pause in March,” said Lauren Korfine, co-president of Congregation Tikkun v’Or. “We have members who are frightened, lonely, or overwhelmed, and it has been a gift of connection to come together to pray in this time of crisis.”

The Congregation intends to consider plans to physically re-open at its June board meeting.

Lansing United Methodist Church plans to wait until the region enters phase four of the state’s plan for reopening per guidance from The Upper NY Conference of the United Methodist Church, according to Pastor Alison Schmied.

This includes “plans for deep cleaning, social distancing and an ongoing schedule of cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing,” she said. “At the current time, gatherings must be socially distanced and limited to groups of 10 or fewer people. Our Sunday morning in-house production crew is five people; adding just five more and calling it a live worship service sounds silly.”

The parishes of All Saints (Lansing), Holy Cross (Dryden) and Saint Anthony (Groton) began celebrating Mass on-site yesterday with attendance limited to 10 and by invitation only, according to a letter circulated by Father Daniel Ruiz on May 24.

The churches will first offer invitations to those who cannot attend online, Ruiz said. Parishioners will be able to sign up to attend online once openings become available. The parishes will offer mass almost daily to accommodate as many people as possible under the current restrictions.

Ruiz’s letter outlined a rigorous protocol for physical distancing, disinfection and distribution of communion and said that, when attendance limits are lifted, the churches will open more generally but continue to limit attendance to allow for social distancing.

Asbury Church planned to begin services this past weekend with an outdoor celebration held in a field behind the church building, according to Pastor Dave Quigley on Facebook.

“We have guidance and guidelines from the state about what we can do,” Quigley said. “If you are not comfortable about coming, that’s OK – there is no pressure or obligation.”

Father Joel Brady of Holy Apostles Orthodox Church said his bishops have come up with a general outline for a gradual reopening process, which he hopes to implement over the next few months.

“Right now, we’re still holding services with the skeleton crew, but we’ve begun allowing people to come by appointment, one household at a time, after the services to pray in the church and receive communion,” he said. “It’s a long, long way from a return to full church life, and the timeline for that full return remains unclear, but it’s been beautiful to see people’s joy just on being able to come to the church building for a few minutes.”

Online services have proven surprisingly beneficial to the congregation, Korfine said.

“Some of our members who aren’t able to attend regularly when we are in-person have been able to grow deeper bonds with the congregation because of the ease of participating from the couch in their living rooms,” Korfine said. “Others have found sharing what is on their hearts to be somewhat easier than it is in person because they feel at the same time connected to the others on the screen but also emotionally safe because of the comfortable distance this platform provides.”

She added that her congregation had a Zoom Passover Freedom Seder, facilitated by Rabbi Brian Walt and featuring Rabbi Arthur Waskow.

Sunday Divine Liturgy at St. George Orthodox Church is recorded and has been posted on the church website since mid-March due to COVID-19 precautions, Binkewicz said. Meanwhile, the parish has been assisting individuals and families who have expressed a need with gift cards to local grocery stores.

LUMC began live-streaming on March 22, Schmied said.

“Brave choir members record their parts singing alone at home, and through technological magic, their voices are combined into beautiful choral music,” Schmied said.

In addition, Sunday School teachers have shared lessons, stories and games with children over Zoom. Liturgists have presented scripture readings recorded in their homes, and parents have sent in videos of children lighting candles at their home worship centers, Schmied added.

“An unexpected joy is seeing members who have moved out of the area join the online community,” she said. “We have a choir member singing from Oregon, occasional singers from Boston, and we have enjoyed guest speakers from Geneva, Syracuse, Rochester and Port au Prince, Haiti.”

Brady said that while online worship isn’t the same as in-person, congregations everywhere are doing what they can to stay safe and connected.

“There’s something irreducibly ‘in-person’ about Orthodox worship,” Brady said. “So, I’ve not tried to pretend that watching services online is any kind of substitute for actual presence in church, but it has been a help and a comfort to people who are feeling the pain of that separation. I hope that it’s been an aid to, rather than a substitute for, a deeper prayer life at home for our people.”


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