A group of Williamsburg Churches is taking a unified approach as the state entered Phase 1 reopening.
CrossWalk Church, Williamsburg Community Chapel and King of Glory Lutheran Church have developed their own guidelines and timeline for reopening based on the order from Gov. Ralph Northam.
While the governor’s order allowed churches to start reopening this past Sunday — with certain restrictions — Mark Morrow, head pastor for CrossWalk, said some faith organizations wanted to take a slower approach.
“Weeks ago when Northam first gave Executive Order 53, he mentioned June 10 so that’s become the psychological line drawn in the sand,” Morrow said. “People’s minds just say okay we’ll shut down and not go back out and do things until then.”
And for some churches, that’s the timeline they’re sticking to.
Morrow said many churches in the area are still sticking to online platforms to reach their congregations while they continue to make a more structured, secure and safe plan for reopening.
CrossWalk, in partnership with Community Chapel and King of Glory, were part of an email chain with 47 other faith leaders in which they collaborated on ideas for safely reopening.
The three local churches decided to create a unified approach for their timelines and protocols.
For the next couple of Sundays, the churches will remain online with the goal of having the first in-person services on June 14. There will be two “soft launch” services before then for church leaders on May 31 and June 7. These services won’t be open to the public, but will rather give church leaders the opportunity to practice new social distancing and public health procedures.
“So they’ll be practicing the new normal, so they’re not learning them at the same time as the general population,” Morrow said.
When the churches do reopen, they’ll be setting a standard mode of protocol to create a touchless environment. Morrow said this means individuals will go from their cars to the service and leave without touching anything besides the seat in which they’re sitting.
To do that, the churches will take the following actions:
- Doors will be propped open to avoid touching handles.
- Welcome teams will maintain social distancing.
- No consumables, such as coffee stations and communion, will be offered.
- Offerings will be collected in boxes at the door.
- Children’s ministries will not be operating.
- Every other row will be blocked off to make sure there is only 50 percent capacity.
- Staff will be required to wear masks.
- Sanitation stations will be available.
- Platform personnel will not be sharing microphones.
- Posted signage asking those with symptoms not to enter.
- Suspending any extra weekly in-person activities.
Church-goers will also be asked — not required — to wear masks.
Morrow said those best practices are subject to change as faith leaders and organizations continue to talk about how to proceed.
“It’s been really cool to see people sharing ideas,” he said. “We realized there is someone that might discover something else so we’re trying to share those best practices.”
But as some churches wait to re-open, Saint Bede Catholic Church is planning to host three masses this Sunday after it submits its final reopening plan Tuesday to the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, said Sam Samorian, director of development for Saint Bede.
Those three masses won’t be the normal church-going experience, though.
Saint Bede plans to implement new procedures, such as a greatly reduced capacity and requiring masks for those older than 3 years old, to help protect public health. Those 65 years and older are encouraged to stay home.
The church will also be trying to create a touchless experience by no longer providing hymnals to parishioners and following a specific set of guidelines from the diocese for communion. Offerings will also be collected in boxes at various locations throughout the church.
There will also be a cleaning crew that will sanitize and disinfect the areas in between each mass.
In the meantime, the church will continue to provide online services and is performing a survey to see how many of the congregation will attend an in-person mass.
“It’s our first run this weekend to see how things go,” Samorian said. “It’s hard to say how many people will return physically but we’ll know by next week.”
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