Local churches find different paths to return to worship as pandemic restrictions ease

Posted 7/8/20

Father Bob Bazzoli leads parishioners in service at OMC on Saturday, July 5. The church began allowing limited attendance at indoor services last month. (Photo is a screenshot of a streaming …

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Local churches find different paths to return to worship as pandemic restrictions ease

Posted
Father Bob Bazzoli leads parishioners in service at OMC on Saturday, July 5. The church began allowing limited attendance at indoor services last month. (Photo is a screenshot of a streaming broadcast of the service)

by Sue Ann Rybak

While Catholic Churches in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia resumed in-person mass on June 6, following the City of Philadelphia’s decision to move into the yellow phase of eased restrictions due to COVID-19, other houses of worship decided to wait.

Fr. Bob Bazzoli, OSFS, the pastor at Our Mother of Consolation, 9 E. Chestnut Hill Ave. in Chestnut Hill, said all the Catholic Churches in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia are following the directives of the Archbishop Nelson Perez, which are outlined at archphila.org/arise/.

He said the directives follow the CDC’s protocols for houses of worship and the practices for the celebration of the sacraments established by the Thomistic Institute, a Catholic organization in Washington, DC.

“To say the least, it is great to gather again as a community for worship; however, the startup has been cautious and gradual,” he wrote in an email. “While everyone appreciates the opportunity to celebrate Mass and receive the Eucharist, many have indicated that they will not be attending Mass until September.  We have noticed a slight increase each weekend but have not reached our ‘social distancing capacity’ at any of our four Masses. If we do find ourselves reaching capacity, we are prepared to implement a process for signing up for mass.”

Bazzoli sad OMC is preparing to use enhanced capabilities to stream services to begin using streaming for services that have been delayed by the pandemic.

“We recently installed a system and will be live streaming the Sunday at 9 a.m. Mass beginning July 5.  Our new livestream capabilities will also allow us to livestream funerals and weddings, many of which were postponed or rescheduled due to the pandemic.”

St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church, 8000 St. Martin’s Lane in Chestnut Hill, decided to begin limited in-person worship on Sunday, June 28. The Sunday after the City of Philadelphia announced that small social and religious gatherings (up to 25 people) could resume.

Rev. Jarrett Kerbel, the rector of St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church, said they are holding worship outside in a tent on their parking lot. People are required to wear a mask, practice social distancing, and register in advance.

The church held its first outdoor service on June 28. He said it was beautiful and pleasant to be outside, and they have a great musician Aaron Graves playing music in the tent all summer.

“We are very excited to be offering in-person worship in a tent,” Kerbel said. “We are trying to be as careful as we possibly can because we are committed to being a place of zero transmission. It’s great to see people in person and pray in person and be out in nature, worshipping who created it all.

Rabbi Adam Zeff, from the Germantown Jewish Center, 400 W. Ellet St. in Mount Airy, said they have been holding services through Zoom and other technologies for several months.

He said since the Philadelphia Department of Public Health announced it would allow small in-person services beginning June 26, the synagogue is just starting to consider it.

“Our executive committee is considering it, and depending on the outcome of that, we may begin services this summer, be we are just not sure yet,” he said.

He said one of the benefits of having an open preschool on their site is it has given them “a little experience in terms of maintenance staff.” He said having the preschool has helped them “envision it.”

In addition to holding services online, volunteers from the synagogue have been calling people. Zeff said it has been fantastic because they have more volunteers than they ever had in the past. He said, in part, because people have more time, and people are more attuned to “the times we are living in.”

“We are connecting with people, finding out people’s needs, finding out if God forbid someone is sick or something like that,” he said.

Cresheim Valley Church, a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), is also holding services and other programs online. 

Dr. John Leonard, the founding pastor of Cresheim Valley Church, said they have to Zoom from their house because the church usually meets at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, 500 W. Willow Grove Ave. in Chestnut Hill, which is closed to outside organizations.  

He said they have no idea when they will be able to return to Springside Chestnut Hill Academy. He added the congregation is currently looking for a space to meet.

Leonard said a lot of members like watching the service online because they can watch it at their convenience.

He added that more people watch the service online than attend their usual Sunday morning service sometimes. He said people from all over the country watch their service online.

Although the congregation cannot return to SCH to hold in-person service, Leonard said the church is encouraging family members who feel comfortable inviting another family or community member over. So, members aren’t just sitting home alone.

He said the church has been responding to the needs of the community by delivering food to people who can’t get out through the Interfaith Hospitality Network and by dropping off fresh fruit or other items to some members of the church. He said it offers him and other members of the church to see people's faces and talk and pray with them.

“A lot of people would rather risk having a relationship with their family than dying of loneliness,” Leonard said. “It’s relationships that make life worth living.”

Pastor Jay Mitchell, of Christ Ascension Lutheran Church, 8300 Germantown Ave. in Chestnut Hill, said the church plans to continue online services until at least until the Sunday after Labor Day.

Mitchell said when they do return, the service will be very different from how people are used to worshipping.

“We are hopeful, and we are in the process of planning what it looks like to have in-person worship."

He added that they are finding out information to address significant health concerns.

For example, Mitchell said they recently found out that singing is a super spreader of aerosols because of the way it requires people to breathe to project and sing.

“Well, singing is a major part of our worship experience,” he said. “What does it look like to not have singing or different kinds of music. Or have other ways members of the congregation can participate with rhythm instruments.

“I am still doing some research on if humming is equally as much as a spreader,” he said. “Our conversation right now for when we come back together. Is what is fundamental to worship. What are those things that if we don’t have them? It’s almost not worth doing. Can we say for a season we will forgo? So, we know we won’t be singing aloud, but can we have other types of music. So, our whole conversation has always been framed around in terms of loving our neighbor. We love our neighbor by not being together, right now.”

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