The COVID-19 pandemic has led to many restrictions on our regular lives and any social gatherings. Churches were particularly impacted and are still adjusting to the “new normal.”
Many area churches have provided regular worship services via various online platforms to allow their congregations to worship together.
Now they are preparing to accept groups of people with restrictions back into their churches.
The Presbyterian Church of Clearfield on Second Street is getting ready to open for services on Sunday, June 28.
In May they elected a “re-opening committee” to devise a plan, which was submitted to the elders for approval, according to the Rev. Dr. Jimmy Hopper.
For their plan, they listened to scientists and trusted God to help them make the right decisions, he said.
He admitted this is “new ground for everybody” dealing with the virus.
“There is a little bit of excitement and a good degree of fear and trembling” about opening again, he said.
They tried to base their plan on what is happening in our area and are closely watching the health news regarding the rest of the state.
Parishioners will be asked to wear masks and comply with social distancing restrictions during their services at 8 a.m. and 10 a.m.
Other things will be a bit different. For instance, there will be no passing of an offering plate, attendees will be asked not to pass the worship material on to others and there will be no singing.
Because “music is an integral part of our worship”, Hopper said this was the hardest thing to remove from their service. But “singing can spread the virus even further” than the recommended social distance, he noted.
“But you can hum under your mask,” he suggested.
Restricting attendance is not an issue for them, because they only average between 70 to 100 people at each service, which is less than the state limitation of 50 percent capacity for their church.
“We have plenty of room,” he said, adding that “We think we are going to be okay.”
For those reluctant to try to attend a service in person, their virtual services will still be available on Facebook and YouTube.
“So, if someone is ill or needs comfort and assurance, they can join us that way.”
Hopper is hoping some people will come out to the services. “I’ve missed them (parishioners) dearly.”
Information on their Facebook page details their procedures.
There will have a check-in table where they will register the names of all who attend the service. Bulletins and offering plates will also be on these tables.
Prior to admittance, they will take “a non-touch temperature,” and will have masks and hand sanitizer available.
Pew cushions have been removed from every other row to encourage social distancing. The hymnals, Bibles, pencils and other items in the pews have been removed.
There will be no junior church or nursery services.
Between services, staff members will sanitize the church.
On July 8, the committee will review these restrictions and will make amendments as needed, Hopper said.
Other activities for the summer have been cancelled including Vacation Bible School.
St. Timothy’s Roman Catholic Church in Curwensville and St. Bonaventure Church in Grampian are also preparing for opening for daily Masses on June 22 and weekend Masses on June 27 and 28.
For their response to the pandemic, they have established some new procedures prior to anyone entering the churches.
Parishioners are asked to arrive 30 minutes before Mass to allow time for ushers to seat everyone. Masks are mandatory, according to information distributed to church members.
Attendees must use the provided hand sanitizer to cleanse their hands before the usher takes them to their seat.
A staggered system of seating is being implemented to utilize more space but this means families with more than three people will not be sitting together.
They are asking that any children attending Mass be kept under “strict observation” and remain seated.
They are also refraining from singing during the service.
Seating will be limited at St. Timothy’s to 72 people and St. Bonaventure’s to 62.
These churches are also warning people not to congregate on church property as another way to avoid spreading the virus.
They are following protocols from the Bishop and these conditions will remain in effect until further notice from the church.
Father Steve Collins states in a letter to his parishioners, “I am serious in requesting that if there are any negative complaints regarding our approach to the protocols, that they be taken solely to Mary in Her new responsibility watching over her Son’s Church.”