Some Lincoln churches delay reopening due to virus

Some Lincoln churches delay reopening due to virus

CUMBERLAND – Given permission to do so by the state, local religious leaders are now grappling with whether they should open to the public for services this weekend.

The Rev. Monsignor Jacques Plante, pastor of St. Aidan-St. Patrick in Cumberland, said the church plans to reopen for Sunday Mass under a long list of conditions.

“The community hasn’t been together in 11 weeks,” he said. “I’m sure it has been difficult for people in longstanding relationships to stay away from each other.”

Parishioners will be expected to wear a mask or face covering, and must sit 6 feet apart. Plante said that means pews that normally seat about 10 people would be limited to two or three.

There will be no Saturday confessions, and the church will be deep-cleaned before service. All of the windows will remain open for better air flow.

Upon entering the church, attendees will be asked to share their name and contact information, should anyone who attended Mass develop coronavirus within a 14-day period.

Those with compromised immune systems due to age or illness and those who are not feeling well are asked to remain home. If you do not feel safe attending church, Plante said that’s “perfectly alright at this time.”

“I’m trying to express the simple message, first for our older parishioners or those who might be otherwise compromised, that God doesn’t expect us to do the impossible,” he said, the same message he shares when the weather is unsafe to drive. “That includes what is morally impossible.”

The church will open for two weekend masses, 4 p.m. on Saturday and 11 a.m. on Sunday, with shorter daily Masses at 9 a.m., which will continue to be shared on Facebook.

As a pastor, he said he’s trying to balance safety with “wanting to welcome them back … but I don’t want them to take risks, and that’s part of Christness. Wearing a mask is an act of charity.”

While many churches gear up to reopen this weekend, others are pumping the brakes for the time being.

The Rev. Alvin Marcetti, vicar at Christ Church, said he doesn’t plan to open until at least the Fourth of July, while the Rev. Kurt Walker of Chapel Street Congregational Church said he would reopen when there’s abundant testing or a vaccine.

Asked about the decision to delay the reopening of Christ Church by at least a month, Marcetti said, “We don’t know very much about this virus. We’re being very cautious.”

He understands that parishioners want to return to church, but said, “I don’t want anyone in danger and it would be terrible for us to rush, or to encourage people to come to church and then they fall ill.”

Walker said he based his decision on, “science, not emotion.”

“It was a faith-based decision, not a fact-based decision,” he said, adding that he did not see Chapel Street welcoming back parishioners until there is a coronavirus vaccine or widespread testing.

“We’re going to wait, and readdress the issue every month,” he said, enhancing other virtual opportunities in the meantime.

“In our faith tradition we start worship saying ‘no matter who you are or where you are in life’s journey, you’re welcome here. Jesus didn’t reject anybody, neither should we.’”

Walker said during this time, holding a small, socially distanced outdoor service would mean turning away members of the church and guests alike.

“That’s my nightmare,” he said.

The decision not to reopen has been one of the most difficult Walker has made as a pastor, but ultimately he said he feels it aligns with the teachings of Jesus Christ.

“We believe that Jesus taught us that we are called to love our neighbor as we do ourselves, and right now, that’s protecting them by staying away,” he said.

“The Church is the living, breathing body of Christ. By not gathering, we believe by faith we are actually protecting the living, breathing body of Christ,” he said.

Thanks to modern technology allowing services to be streamed online, or for church leaders to check in with members over the phone or a video call, Walker said people are, “still being fed spiritually without the need to go to a physical location.”

“It makes sense of us to wait to open until I can assure to the best of my ability that we can do so safely,” he said.

Marcetti said he feels comfortable making tentative plans to reopen in July in part because of the size of the congregation at Christ Church, which he said is just under 50 people between two services.

There will be no singing, as it increases chances to spread the virus, which also played a role in Walker’s decision not to reopen. Marcetti said there would be no singing together – only a soloist, separated from the rest of the congregation.

Upon reopening, which Marcetti said would be done under an abundance of caution, churchgoers will be socially distanced at least 6 feet apart. Under guidelines, he would not be required to wear a mask, but must remain about 15 feet away from parishioners at all times.

Instead of prayer books, people will received individually printed bulletins. Marcetti said there probably won’t be “lemonade on the lawn” after summer morning service as parishioners are used to.

To those who feel unsure whether they’re ready to return to church during the current pandemic, he said, “My message would be to stay home if you’re not comfortable, have an underlying condition or have any kind of autoimmune deficiency.”

“We’re going to be very cautious,” he added. “We want everyone to remain safe and healthy.”