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Churches proceeding with caution in resuming in-person worship services

Only every other pew may be occupied for in-person Masses at Our Lady of Lourdes

Only every other pew may be occupied for in-person Masses at Our Lady of Lourdes Roman Catholic Church in Greenwood. Capacity in the sanctuary also is limited to 25%. Distances between families seated on pews and in line for receiving Communion are part of reopening procedures, too, amid COVID-19 concerns.

Social distancing is now part of all Masses at Our Lady of Lourdes Roman Catholic Church in Greenwood and small groups are part of a tiered reopening at South Main Baptist Church in Greenwood.

Churches are employing different strategies and some are still opting for no in-person gatherings for the time being.

President Donald Trump’s administration is expected to release new guidance on reopening churches and other places of worship during the coronavirus pandemic. Earlier this week, Trump said he considered churches essential.

The Rev. Timothy Tebalt of Our Lady of Lourdes said resumption of Mass is going well with social distancing protocols in place and the church was below a 25% capacity for each of its three Masses the weekend of May 16.

“A number of people indicated to me, prior to this first weekend back, that they intend to wait a bit longer and continue watching videos of the Mass,” Tebalt said. “Folks seemed to have adapted well to restrictions and precautions — blocked off pews, six feet of distance between people in the Communion line, no passing of the collection basket and hand sanitizer.”

And, instead of a full choir, the church has a cantor, a solo singer, who leads singing of psalms or hymns and chants with biblical texts that are normally sung as part of the liturgy.

It’s all part of the new normal for resuming in-person Christian worship amid COVID-19 concerns.

In the spacious sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes, every other pew is blocked off so that not all may be occupied. With new protocols, only family members are permitted to sit close together.

At any given Mass, whether daily or Sunday, capacity in the church building is being limited to 25%, or a maximum of 187 people. Six feet of space between people is encouraged when in line to receive Communion.

The first public daily Mass upon resumption of in-person services at the church was May 13 and the first Sunday Masses were the weekend of May 16 and 17. Although Mass in church buildings is being permitted, other activities, including religious education and social gatherings, are still suspended until further notice. And, those who are in high-risk categories for complications from COVID-19 are encouraged to continue with livestreaming of services until restrictions are eased.

Our Lady of Lourdes parishioner Darla Lordemann said it’s been difficult for her not attending in person, until the bishop for the diocese permitted public masses to resume earlier this month. Lordemann, 72, has been attending the Greenwood church for 23 years.

“It’s just that boost you need in your life to get you through the week sometimes, you know,” Lordemann said. “I’ve missed the atmosphere at church and I have really missed receiving Communion. It was great to see others at church and to see their faces when we went May 13 and 14. We make due with what we have to with regard to social distancing. Some people are not comfortable without wearing masks and others are. Because of the distancing, I feel comfortable not wearing the mask in church. I’m just so happy to be back, but it will be a new normal.”

Lordemann said there were a mix of ages at the Masses.

Normally, a part of services would be shaking people’s hands during sign of the peace at Mass. Now, that is not being done. Instead, people are acknowledging others with nods of the head and other non-touch means.

“It is kind of strange, but we are now doing that in our daily lives, not just church,” Lordemann said. “I think people are getting kind of programmed to not touch.”

Lordemann said Communion was given in one form only — the wafer, with no wine.

During services she attended, Lordemann said she contemplated God’s mercy.

“I think we just have to leave it up to Him,” Lordemann said.

A team representing medicine, government, education, business and the military gathered to discuss how to reopen South Main Baptist Church in Greenwood, according to pastor Toby Frost.

“We have come up with a laddered approach,” Frost said, noting the strategy is taking into account safety protocols and the church’s already familiar “small groups” format for various types of gatherings: certain Sunday school classes, addiction and recovery groups and even a grief support group.

“Most other churches are beginning to reopen with large groups, moving to small groups and Sunday school,” Frost said. “We are opting for a plan which reopens with select groups first, with a slower, more deliberate move to larger group meetings and worship services.”

Frost said church leaders are of the opinion that stringent protocols for maintaining health and safety can be maintained better with small group gatherings rather than with one or two large services.

“And, the in-person events can be crafted better to meet the needs of each group,” Frost said. “With smaller groups, we can keep social distancing and it’s much easier to note who is present. Our church is already organized into small groups, so this is not a big stretch for us.”

South Main Baptist member Brittany Aga, 31, said the last Sunday her family attended church in person was March 15. In the interim there have been Zoom meetings for Sunday school and livestreams for worship for the Agas,

“Small group is where my heart is in the church,” Aga said. “I love our worship services, but we love the interaction among the small groups. I lead our Grief Share group at church and we were just getting started when the coronavirus and church closures happened. “Bringing that back is going to be really powerful for those who have lost loved ones.”

Aga said her 6-year-old daughter has been less than excited about virtual church the past few weeks.

“But, it has helped to talk to Sunday school teachers through FaceTime,” Aga said. “Those first few weeks were very difficult. It was difficult for her to understand why all of this was happening. With school being closed the rest of the year, too, it kind of took everything out from underneath her.”

Breakfast is often a part of small groups, Aga said, but it might not be anytime soon.

For a time, livestreams and radio broadcasts will continue to be how 8:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. Sunday worship services are made available to the South Main Baptist congregation.

Contact St. Claire Donaghy at 864-943-2518.

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