Amid Pandemic, Houses of Worship Reopen for Services In Massachusetts

"Catholics aren't good at social distancing; we're meant to be together"

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Houses of worship across Massachusetts opened Sunday for the first time in months, but parishoners found very different places than the ones they left in March.

As the state moves cautiously to resume some activities amid the global coronavirus pandemic, some — though not all — churches reopened with restrictions in place on Sunday.

Attendees were told to wear face coverings and keep a safe distance from others who they don’t live with. Churches have been advised to offer pre-packaged communion or sacrament, cap attendance at 40-percent capacity and sanitize between services.

Some churches opted to open for the first Sunday in about two months following Gov. Charlie Baker's Phase I plan to reopen Massachusetts.

At Brockton Assembly of God on Warren Ave., churchgoers found hand sanitizer, roped-off pews and face masks among the measures.

"It was great," said Steve Warner, a senior pastor at the Brockton church. "We call this a soft start.

Pastor Warner says his church held online services after the coronavirus pandemic shut it down, but that the Internet is no match for the real thing.

"We were able to keep people safe, and get people saved. So, that's kind of our plan, and it worked," he said.

"So happy to be back," one woman said.

"There's nothing like being in church," another parishioner said.

Another woman said, "It was scary but it was good."

The Vinyeard Church has found a unique way to celebrate Easter amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The Archdiocese of Boston resumed in-person Masses at churches this weekend, releasing a video demonstrating how Catholics can keep each other safe.

St. John the Evangelist was one such Catholic Church to open its doors, holding a Sunday morning service without music and asking its parishoners to keep masks on throughout the Mass.

"Catholics aren't good at social distancing; we're meant to be together," Father Chris O'Connor of the Winthrop church said.

One church member who attended the Mass said the church seemed to take the guidelines seriously.

"It was probably about the best they could do. It was nice," parishioner David Hubbard said.

The Beth Menachem Chabad of Newton synagogue also reopened for Shabbat this weekend.

“I trust in the authorities that they have looked through the possibilities and what’s going on and what is the right decision to make,” Rabbi Shalom Ber Prus said. “We’re obviously very happy that places of worships are one of the first places to be opened, stressing how important religious gatherings are.”

Other places of worship, such as the Episcopalian Church in Massachusetts, will not reopen before July 1. The United Church of Christ and members of the Massachusetts Council of Churches are also holding off for now.

"We're not ready, and we are not going to open our doors until we believe that everybody is going to be able to stay safe," said Father Tim Schenck, rector of the Episcopal Parish of St. John the Evangelist in Hingham.

Despite the easing of church social distancing, some pastors say the option to worship virtually will be with us for some time. The Cornerstone Church, which is reopening this weekend, has established a hybrid system to ensure proper social distancing.

"It's just going to mean having pre-registration, so people can reserve online or via email, what service and we'll cap it at 40% capacity, or maybe even less,” Cornerstone Church Pastor Jamie Walton said.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced that houses of worship would be among the first places that could reopen their doors beginning on Monday, May 18.

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