Pastor Alex Raabe, of Oceanside Lutheran Church, is anxious to return to in-person worship — but the health and safety of parishioners comes first, he said.
“It’s not ideal,” Raabe said of the virtual worship services he’s held for the past three months now. “Nobody loves it, I don't love it, but it’s OK. And we’ll keep doing that because we know a lot of people aren't comfortable coming back yet.”
In Phase Two of reopening, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has allowed churches to reopen at 25 percent capacity. However, many places of worship are waiting for various reasons — including OLC.
Raabe noted that the OLC building is just too small to hold a 25 percent capacity service. There would need to be multiple services throughout the day, and “we didn't want to put that strain on our musicians and worship leaders.”
Therefore, he hopes to open on July 12, but that would be the earliest. The church still needs to ensure it has all the proper PPE and sanitizing supplies it needs. When the church does open, it will be at half capacity. Families or individuals will sit six feet apart in every other pew. Also, the streaming of services online will continue for those who still wish to remain home.
“We're ready to get back, but we know that our people's health is important,” Raabe concluded. “We’ve been open, we've been worshipping — just got together. We’ve been the church this whole time. It's been hard, but we know it’s for everyone's best interest.”
Rabbi Aaron Marsh, of Oceanside Jewish Center, said he is also still working on a plan to reopen for in-person worship. However, there is no set return date at this time. “We will likely be phasing things in with some smaller weekday services before we open for our bigger Saturday morning service,” he explained.
In Island Park, South Shore Jewish Center reopened for the first time since March for limited capacity, in-person services on Friday evening and Saturday morning. Church leadership made clear that masks and social distancing were required. Those services were also streamed via Zoom video conferencing.
“Rabbi Hoffman has planned the services so that each of us will be praying in our seats spaced at six feet apart,” SSJC officials wrote in an email to congregants. “There will be no access to the kiddush room or sanctuary for discussion pre or post services.”
Prior to worshippers returning to SSJC’s ballroom for services, SSJC said the room would “be treated with a state of the art electrostatic decontamination procedure.” People were also asked to use their own prayer books or borrow one from the temple, which would be sanitized beforehand.
As of June 13, St. Anthony’s Church in Oceanside also reopened, with masses seven days a week.