Local pastors never imagined they’d one day be installing hand sanitizer dispensers or making masks available for the faithful, but they’re dutifully following restrictions and putting the safety of their congregations first, while remaining good humored.
“Overnight, I’ve turned into a televangelist,” the Rev. Blair Hall, pastor of St. George’s United Methodist Church in Clarksville, joked as he explained how he has organized online services, drive-in services at 9:30 on Sunday mornings and, for those without Internet, a phone line, at (302) 207-8797, to listen to the weekly message (See a video of a service at https://youtu.be/NaX3mR6nyMM).
“Every decision that we have been, and will be, making as a leadership team at St. George’s involving COVID-19 is governed by the safety of our congregation. We love the people of St. George’s — too much to not be cautious and careful with their health and well-being,” he said.
With that in mind, and required restrictions concerning spacing and wearing masks, the church will delay meeting in person “until we can be compliant to the guidelines and resume church somewhat normally,” the pastor said.
“We have quite a few in the high-risk category. Their safety is our first priority,” he said.
“I think everyone understands that things have to be different now,” the Rev. John Klevence, pastor of St. Ann Catholic Church in Bethany Beach said.
“We are asking everyone, and we have in our bulletin, to practice patience and kindness and understanding during this time. For those who choose to come to church, husbands and wives can sit together. Families can sit together but you can’t sit with your friend and that will be hard for a lot of single people who see their friends in church and want to be with them,” he said.
As St. Ann begins welcoming church members to 30 percent capacity, under Gov. John Carney’s guidelines, those who want to attend will have to reserve seating.
The Diocese of Wilmington announced Delaware parishes may resume confessions and daily Masses beginning on Saturday, June 1. Sunday Mass will begin with the Saturday vigil on June 6, with restrictions.
The Rev. Klevence explained 30 percent of church capacity will allow 270 people in the sanctuary that can hold 900, but because everyone has to be at least 6 feet apart, the number will drop to 150.
Everyone must wear a mask. Church leaders have ordered touchless hand sanitizer dispensers and are considering also buying temporal thermometers that read temperatures after being pointed at one’s forehead.
Because not everyone will fit in the sanctuary, and for those who don’t feel ready to return to church, St. Ann will continue to livestream Masses for the remainder of the pandemic and probably afterward, as well, for shut-ins, the pastor said.
Person-to-person communion will be allowed, but the one giving communion must wear a mask and sanitize hands if there is any contact with the recipient.
When the summer schedule begins on June 28, the Rev. Klevence and the Rev. Lance Collins, who is also pastor of Our Lady Of Guadalupe Mission Church in nearby Frankford will offer Saturday vigil Masses at 4 and 6 p.m. and Sunday morning Masses at 7:30, 9, 10:30 and noon.
Masses will be at 9 and 11 a.m. on Sundays at Our Lady of Guadalupe.
But the Rev. Klevence said there is no requirement to attend Mass, if anyone is ill, frail or not yet ready to go into church buildings. The obligation was lifted by Bishop Francis Malooly in mid-March.
Details about restrictions are on the church’s Website and Facebook page, and there’s a video of a question and answer session.
At Ocean View Church of Christ, the Rev. Ethan Magee said details are still being finalized.
“It was like, all of a sudden you can open so we’ll just have to figure it out and do it wisely. We have a big gymnasium also that we would like to have for overflow and do the live feedings there. Everybody is just doing their best,” he said.
Church members can watch services at https://www.ccovde.org/watchnow
The pastor said he doubts he’ll have to wear a mask while presenting the weekly sermon, because, “Where I preach is probably 30 feet away from the next person.”
Once services begin again, communion of bread and grape juice will likely be in portable packs placed throughout pews, so nobody but the recipient touches the contents.
Although he hasn’t yet measured the church to determine how many people will fit, he estimated 30 percent will equal about 90 churchgoers. In normal times, about 200 attend every Sunday.
There will be a sanitation station and everyone attending will be asked to take masks.
There are no immediate plans to reopen Temple Bat Yam in Berlin, Md., Rabbi Estelle Mills said, because meeting on the Internet platform Zoom is working well, but most importantly because “one of the highest values in Judaism s the saving of lives and the holiness of each person.”
“Until we can be sure everyone is safe, meeting by Zoom is going to continue for the foreseeable future,” the rabbi said.
Anyone interested in participating can call the temple office at (410) 641-4311 and ask for the meeting code.
“Our building has been closed but we’ve continued to be open with services and virtual gatherings of all kinds. We’ve created new ways to support one another. We continue to work and serve one another. We have offered many adult education programs. We’ve offered religious programs. None of our events have stopped,” Mills said.
“I’ve quickly become an expert on technology but we never missed a service. And we are offering more programming so now members from outside of the area can join us. We are bringing in guest speakers, national speakers,” she said.
Drive-in church has begun at Mariner’s Bethel United Methodist Church in Ocean View.
“We weren’t built to be apart, we were built to be together. That’s what our nature is, what our soul is. That’s the way God created us. God does not social distance,” the Rev. Woody Wilson said.
“God’s presence is with us individually. It’s always great to be able to worship within eyesight of each other. There’s a certain comfort. It gives folks a great opportunity to be able to come out, even though they will be sitting in their cars.
“We’re hoping to have drive-in services the next two or three weeks, but right now everything is fluid. We’re hoping to work out a configuration,” he said.
“The congregations haven’t been able to get together. Even though they have to sit in their cars, they will be able to see each other out of the windows, wave to each other.
“The plan right now it to have those drive-in services as often as we can. It is a fluid situation based on any other directive that will come out. Everything we do will be out of love for community, out of love for our congregation,” the Rev. Wilson said.
Communion won’t be given at this time, keeping with CDC guidelines, he said.
About 90 cars can fit in Mariner’s parking lot.
The Rev. Mark Molter, pastor of Community Lutheran Church in Frankford, in a letter addressed to “brothers and sisters in Christ,” wrote it “breaks my heart that we cannot have a robust expression of faith with song as we are used to.”
“I certainly miss seeing everyone in worship. I miss giving and receiving the sacraments. Despite all this I know that we remain faithful and that Jesus is still present despite the absence of our normal expressions of faith.”
He and the church council are being “patient and deliberate in our response” to reopening the church.
“We want to use an abundance of precaution given the majority of our congregation are considered in the vulnerable population groups. As of now we do not have a date for when we will safely gather in person.”
The Rev. Molter wrote that masks will be worn when church gatherings resume. Hand sanitizer will be required and proper distancing observed.
“Our worshiping experience will not be back to normal any time soon. Our worship and music team is meeting this week to discuss some of the details and we will share that information with you,” he wrote.
There will not be communion “until we have had at a few weeks to settle into our new norms for in-person worship,” he wrote.
At Ocean View Presbyterian Church in Ocean View, the Rev. Terance Dougherty is committed to “taking it quite slowly, especially because we are an elderly congregation, so most of our people are going to fit into the over-65 category.”
“Some people have more vulnerabilities so we are going to be a little bit behind the Delaware schedule,” he said.
Buildings have to be sanitized before services resume.
There is a small historic section of the church that has limited entranceways and poor circulation, so it won’t be used. Instead, the newer building, opened in 2003, with a wider entrance and multiple exit points, will be in use.
Hand sanitizer, gloves and masks will be available, although church members will be urged to take their own.
Marks in the sanctuary will indicate where seating will be.
The memorial hall can hold 299 people, but the average service draws 60 to 80 people. That number increases during the summer and at Easter and Christmas.
“We have a very social congregation. We think of ourselves as a family and we really do behave that way. Everybody sees each other here and everybody sees each other everywhere else all the time,” the Rev. Dougherty said.
Communion won’t be given in June, and decisions will be made month to month, but it’s likely servers will wear masks and gloves.
The pastor said he has learned singing quickly transmits the virus, and is the “next worst thing to sneezing.”
“When we do return to singing, we will have everything printed in the bulletin so nobody will have to touch the hymnals,” said Dougherty, who is certain the pandemic is not God’s fault.
“We live in a fallen world. God cares about us enough that God constantly works with us inside our freedom to help us step onto the correct path and find our way back. God is unrelenting. God suffers with us when we suffer,” he said.
“This is a good time to think about God Shalom and not be a consumer, but to have contentedness with the love of God. I think we can think our way to some good lessons.”