While many churches have returned to in-person worship, some are doing so on a limited basis or holding off altogether.
At First Baptist Church in Williamsburg, Nathaniel Brown, external communications officer, said the church is still waiting to hold in-person services due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Brown said part of the reason is because the church has primarily older, black members, which have been shown to be at a greater risk of vulnerability to the virus and complications.
“When we looked at the statistics of what’s been happening in regard to African Americans and the coronavirus, we felt the best thing to do right now is keep the church closed,” Brown said. “We have to be extra careful because of the makeup of our congregation.”
The church closed in March and has been conducting virtual services ever since. The church even does a virtual communion, where members can pick up a prepackaged communion set on certain days to participate.
While it’s disappointing not to be able to worship together, Brown said the pandemic has offered a unique opportunity to connect with people who might not be able to make it to services regularly. It has also created circumstances where the church has learned how to use more virtual platforms and technology.
While the church plans to continue the new virtual services even when it reopens, Brown said he isn’t sure when the church will reopen.
“We’re trying to air on the side of caution,” he said. “Were glad some of the re-openings are taking place but because reports have indicated that African Americans have been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus, we are being extra careful.”
But some churches have already started to reopen under guidance from Gov. Ralph Northam.
CrossWalk Church Pastor Mark Murrow said the church held two soft openings last month that allowed leaders to become comfortable with new regulations. Church leaders were able to receive feedback and make changes to operations before opening publicly.
For example, Murrow said the original plan was to make masks optional for parishioners. However, they quickly realized that many people would only feel comfortable coming to church if masks were a requirement.
The church also realized families wanted to gather with their children but still participate in services. So, a closed-circuit television was provided in the children’s area where parents could participate.
The church had its first public worship session June 14 and found the experience to be successful. Murrow said because of the restrictions of 50 percent capacity limit, the church had to add an overflow room so all of the guests could attend service. The overflow room is similar to the main worship room where guests are socially distanced and required to wear masks.
So far Murrow said there haven’t been reports of anyone at the church getting sick which he said is a positive indication that the methods are working.
Dr. Muhammad Amer, chairman of trustees at the Peninsula Islamic Community Center in Hampton, said the mosque opened at the end of May, early June based on the state and CDC guidelines.
Families were asked not to bring children to the center and older people with medical problems to stay home.
The mosque has stopped live streaming its services, too, Amer said.
“We are screening people coming in with temperatures and also we have a mandatory requirement for wearing masks,” he said.
The mosque practices social distancing measures and they have not had to use overflow areas at this point.
“I’d say between 70 to 100 coming,” the physician, who works at Bon Secours Mary Immaculate Hospital in Newport News, said. “We required people to bring their own prayer rugs.”
People are also asked to bring their own masks and those who do not have a prayer rug can use paper sheets available at the mosque.
Other changes include putting hand hygiene stations all over the building and if the mosque becomes full, they would have another prayer session.
“I think we can accommodate another 20, 30 people before we limit and have another separate session instead of having one prayer at 1:15, we will probably have another prayer at 2:15,” Amer said. “I guess people have been pretty good about following the rules and everything and they have been maintaining social distancing.
“And we have been telling them to use their bathroom at home and don’t try to use the bathroom unless it’s an emergency.”
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