Local churches take varying approaches to reopening

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

Local churches are handling the reopening of their facilities in different ways.

Gov. Eric Holcomb announced in his five-stage plan for reopening the state that churches could reopen facilities in Stage 2 (specifically on May 8) of the “Back on Track Indiana” plan, which is the stage the state is currently in.

“We felt that as we were phasing in, this was a good test case or control group, to see if we could responsibly start opening up on this front,” Holcomb said Tuesday during his daily COVID-19 briefing. “We didn’t want to go all the way and just across the board open it all up.

“So this was a first step toward what we felt was responsible and we just wanted to be more safe than sorry if we went too much too fast,” he said.

Central Christian Church in Huntingburg plans to have service in the building this Sunday, Office Manager Lana Thomas said.

“We’re not going to be having nursery,” she said, “or Sunday school classes.” Safety measures, including social distancing, will be in place. And the live broadcasts will continue on Facebook, she said.

The Diocese of Evansville, which includes the Catholic churches in the county, announced Thursday that parishes may begin celebrating weekday public Masses in churches starting May 18 and weekend Masses starting again on May 23. Funeral Masses, wedding Masses and scheduled confessions in parish churches can also start again on May 18.

“Those age 65 and older, and those of any age with underlying medical issues, are strongly encouraged to stay home and participate in online livestream Masses, which will continue to be provided,” according to an announcement released by the diocese Thursday.

Social distancing guidelines will be followed, which will reduce seating capacities, the diocese acknowledged. Also, according to the diocese’s announcement, off-site Masses at sites, including, but not limited to, chapels in hospitals, nursing homes and other senior centers remain suspended until further notice.

“While everyone is anxious to return to the public celebration of Mass,” Bishop Joseph Siegel said, “we need to provide sufficient time for our parishes to thoroughly clean their churches, to make preparations to accommodate state guidelines for social distancing, sanitizing the building after each Mass and other safety protocols as well as training liturgical ministers in new procedures, particularly the distribution of Holy Communion.”

Some churches are going to wait a little longer to reopen.

Redemption Christian Church in Jasper plans to reopen its doors on June 14, which is when Stage 4 of the state’s plan is scheduled to start.

“This Sunday will be just like every Sunday that we’ve had during this current situation. We’re going to be offering our digital worship,” Senior Pastor Darrel Land said. “The difference is that we are now encouraging people who feel comfortable to worship with their small groups and family and friends, now that social gatherings of 25 people or less are allowed. Some aren’t going to be comfortable. And that’s fine. We want them to do what they are comfortable with.”

He said the church will take the next month to ramp up plans for social distancing and other safety precautions.

“We want to open as safely as we can with as much consideration as we can to protect the vulnerable,” Land said. “That includes working with the numerous volunteers to make sure safety measures are in place. And everything is subject to change if health situations change or government leaders’ recommendations change locally or across the state. Some people may think this is all overkill. But Jesus gave up a lot of rights and a lot of privileges to love the neighbor. And we should be willing to do that same. Just because I think it’s safer should not make me be less considerate of those who are more worried about going out.”

Shiloh United Methodist Church in Jasper is also going to wait until June 14.

“We want to observe the good advice we’re getting from the local government and the governor’s office,” Shiloh Pastor Dan Sinkhorn said. The church has also gotten guidance from the Indiana area bishop, who has asked United Methodist churches to wait until June 14.

“We are going to honor that,” Sinkhorn said.

Leadership is going to start transitioning from having livestream services from their own homes to streaming live services from the church building. And by the first part of June, Shiloh expects to have in place a plan for accommodating parishioners in the building again, “especially those who are low tech and no tech, and have really felt isolated as a result,” Sinkhorn said.

“We want to invite them back to church, and space them out so that they are safely distanced within our space,” he said. “And then ask the people who are comfortable with the technology to keep doing that for at least until July.”

The church is also looking at having special accommodations for those who are more at risk healthwise. “That depends on demand,” Sinkhorn said. “We know how many people we have, but we don’t know how many are ready to venture out. So we want to communicate with them that we will do whatever it takes to make you feel safe and connected.”

Holcomb said spiritual guidance is important to people’s wellness.

“In addition to our physical well-being, spiritual ranks real high up there as well,” Holcomb said. “But it was dependent upon congregational leaders, our worship faith leaders, to make sure that they were leading their flock in a safe way.”




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