As sectors of the economy cautiously open up, so too are area churches and houses of worship. In Highland, Fr. John Lynch, of St. Augustine Church, said they have been taking state guideline seriously in this era of covid-19.
“We’re doing all the precautions that we’re supposed to do to stay safe,” he said. “We’ve tapped off certain pews so that people when they come in would automatically know where to sit, so they can keep a safe distance, six feet apart or more.”
Fr. Lynch said they have hand sanitizers available to parishioners, “in strategic locations where you can’t miss it.” He said people are required to wear a mask upon entering the church, “and they’ve been doing all of that because last weekend [June 13-14] we had our Masses and it was very smooth and people came in prepared. It really went well.”
Fr. Lynch said his parishioners have been very cooperative, “and are so eager just to get back. He said they have not had any in the congregation who have taken ill.
“I am really grateful for that because I was worried; it is everywhere as you know, but we didn’t seem to have that, through the grace of God,” he said.
Fr. Lynch said by keeping their normal Mass schedule it prevents a “crush” of people from attending a single Mass, while staying within state guidelines. Sunday Masses are at 7:30am, 9am, 11:15am, 1pm and 7:30pm. Daily Mass is at 7am Monday through Friday and on Saturday at 8am.
Rev. Arlene B. Dawber, of the First United Methodist Church of Highland, said she is looking to reopen in July for her 70 parishioners.
“It’s to our discretion, and as I am looking at it now with the older population that I have, I have to see what happens with this [covid-19] surge,” she said. “We’re starting to see the numbers go up because everybody else is reconnecting,” she said.
Rev. Dawber has been diligently disinfecting and shampooing the carpets and making sure there is one entrance and one exit.
Rev. Dawber said when they open the Bishop has said it has to be at 25% of capacity of the room.
“My room capacity is 200 so I don’t have to worry about anything but a lot of churches do. It’s a challenge and how do you pick the 25 percent?,” she asked.
Rev. Dawber said she will continue “forever offering the service on Zoom, so people can get it off of their computers.” She said in July she will assess the situation, “and go from there. I can’t make that decision yet because we’ll have to see what happens when things start reopening.”
Rev. Thomas Dicks, of St. Mary’s Church in Marlboro, said his church is already open for Saturday Mass at 5 p.m. and on Sunday at 8 a.m., 9:30 a.m. and at 11 a.m., all at St. Mary’s.
Rev. Dicks said they have hand sanitizers readily available and are practicing social distancing, with everyone wearing a mask. He said he also wears a mask and cleans his hands before and after he gives out Holy Communion and does not touch a parishioner’s hands. He has also dispensed with greeting people after Mass and shaking hands at the door.
“This is the second week we’ve had Mass here and we’re getting a decent amount of people,” he said. “They’re coming back slowly and some people are probably still scared but a lot of people want to come because they miss receiving Holy Communion, they miss the singing, the readings and the homily from the Mass. They also miss seeing familiar faces each week.”
Rev. Dicks said Cardinal Timothy Dolan has said that people over 65 or who have some underlying health condition are not required to attend Mass.
Rev. Dicks said the gospel this week is Jesus saying do not be afraid, “very appropriate for this time with the pandemic going.”
Pastor David Stern, of the Lattingtown Baptist Church in Milton, said they had clearance last Sunday, “but we held off a week just to prepare accordingly.”
Pastor Stern said their doors opened for the June 21st service with the seats spread appropriately apart and required masks. He said they will continue offering the FM transmitter for those who want to remain in their cars in the parking lot and listen to the service.
Pastor Stern said he may preach outside in good weather on some Sundays, “to be there for the congregation as a whole.” He estimates that he has about 35 who regularly attend services.
Pastor Stern keeps an eye on the New York State portal to keep track of what Phase the state is in and what churches are allowed to do. He is also in communication with town authorities. “to make sure they know we’re doing everything according to state guidelines.”
Pastor Stern said having churches available to the public is critically important.
“In trying times like this that our community, our nation and our world is going through, the ability to get together and pray for one another is great to do in person as much as possible,” he said.
Rev. Laurie McNeill serves the First Presbyterian Churches of Marlboro and Highland. She said Marlboro is planning to hold Sunday Service at 11am starting on July 12th. The 30 minute service will be held outdoors and people will bring their own chairs or blankets. There will be no singing or responsive readings and the Highland Church, which has been yoked with Marlboro for 60 years, as well as the wider community are welcome to attend. If it rains the service will be canceled.
Rev. McNeill said service is also available on YouTube at the First Presbyterian Church of Marlboro and Highland. She added that the Highland Church may decide to start up services in August and times should be checked on line.