SOUTHERN INDIANA — It will be at least another week — if not a month — before many of Southern Indiana’s largest churches resume on-site worship services.
Gov. Eric Holcomb announced May 1 that places of worship could reopen for in-person services beginning today, May 8, as guidelines were provided by the state to encourage safety practices with the spread of COV-19 still a concern.
However, some churches are taking more time before resuming on-site worship to form plans and provide direction for those attending services.
The Rev. Mark Feather of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in New Albany said the likely earliest date for a return to in-person services for the congregation will be June 14. But he emphasized that the work of the church never ceased.
“The church is open, it’s our building that’s closed,” he said. “We have never closed as a church, the church is the people.”
The Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis has asked that Episcopal churches remain closed for public services until the end of May, he continued. When the time comes to reopen, Feather said the church will go “above and beyond” government recommendations for safety.
“I think as a community of faith, we’re going to be even more sensitive to make sure we are good role models for the community and make certain everyone is as safe as they possibly can be,” he said.
St. Paul’s will continue its virtual worship at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays and Feather said the church hasn’t halted its community initiatives such as feeding those in need. Instead of serving a meal in the church building, members are preparing to-go bags for people in the community.
Northside Church of Christ in Jeffersonville will reconvene for in-person Sunday services May 17. Wednesday evening services won’t resume until June 3.
In an announcement to members Wednesday, church officials specified some of the precautions that will be taken once the doors are opened for worship.
The church will encourage attendees to use an every-other-pew approach to keep an empty pew between them and the next row. Communion trays and contribution plates will not be passed when Northside reopens. Instead, travel communion cups will be placed at the entrance of the worship center and contribution plates will be available when attendees exit the church building.
Handshakes, hugs and other physical contact will be discouraged, and children’s classes will not meet.
“The elderly or those with underlying health issues should plan to stay at home and access the livestream rather than attend in person,” officials stated in the announcement.
St. Mary’s Catholic Church in New Albany is awaiting direction from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis before setting a date to resume services. Friar Mark Weaver said it will likely be May 24 or May 31 when services restart.
Bishops of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis released the following statement regarding resumption of services.
“The five Catholic dioceses of the Province of Indianapolis will begin resuming public liturgies (e.g. Mass and Sacraments) by 30 May 2020, the Vigil of Pentecost, with restrictions outlined by each diocese and provided to the parishes within their respective jurisdictions. The dispensation from the obligation to participate at Mass on Sundays is extended throughout the State of Indiana until 15 August 2020.”
St. Mary’s has three Masses each weekend. The two English Masses have between 200 and 270 attendees, while the Spanish Mass has up to 600 in attendance.
The church has livestreamed services in Spanish and English since early March, but Weaver said meeting in person is special.
“For us Christians, the most important thing about the Eucharist that we celebrate every Sunday is being able to receive the Body of the Lord, and we believe that Jesus changes that bread into his body and the wine into his blood, and that’s the most important thing about our worship every Sunday,” he said.
When the church resumes in-person Masses, Weaver said several precautions will be taken to help protect attendees. Social distancing measures will be implemented and the “whole church including the pews and the bathrooms” will be sanitized after each Mass, he said.
There will be overflow seating in the school cafeteria and the Mass will be livestreamed in the building if necessary to account for the social distancing standards, Weaver continued.
Those who are 65 or older or who have underlying health issues will be discouraged from coming to public Mass. Weaver said St. Mary’s will continue to lifestream services to ensure those who don’t attend can still participate in the worship.
In a video message on its website, Charlestown Road Church of Christ in New Albany announced plans to reopen for assembly May 17.
In the message, a church official said members will be contacted to gauge their opinions about returning to in-person service. The church has about 350 people in attendance most Sundays.
The church also provided a list of several safety measures that will be implemented once services resume.
Eastside Christian Church in Jeffersonville won’t resume on-site services until after Memorial Day.
In a video message on the church’s website, Lead Pastor Dave Hastings said the initial in-person services will be May 28 and May 31.
“We fully understand that not everyone is comfortable with that,” Hastings said. “That’s OK. That’s why we have an online service and that’s here to stay.”
Hastings said the decision was driven by principles, including the safety of the congregation and respect for leaders.
As for calls by church members to reopen the building, Feather said the congregation at St. Paul’s has been understanding of the crisis facing the nation.
“Everyone has been extraordinarily supportive of our not having on-site worship,” said Feather, who added that having a virtual service and a regular virtual coffee hour has helped keep the church engaged while it can’t meet in the building.
“We’re excited when the time comes to be able to reopen our space for onsite worship,” he said. “We’re going to do everything we can to keep people as safe as possible.”