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In-person worship now allowed

Houses of worship have mixed reopening ideas

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After closing their doors for several months amid the coronavirus pandemic, some houses of worship in Lynbrook and East Rockaway are reopening to parishioners, while others are waiting to do so.

Lynbrook Baptist Church, which has hosted virtual services for more than three months, held its first in-person service on June 28. In the week leading up to it, the Rev. Robert Walderman said he had mixed emotions about doing so. 

“I’m excited because it’s nice to see people face to face to regroup, and the congregation looks forward to it,” Walderman said, “but I’m not that excited, because there’s so many regulations and restrictions.”

That Sunday, Walderman set up three stations in the church: a temperature-check area, a hand sanitizer station and an area where attendance was taken. Congregants were not permitted in the church without masks, and sat six feet apart in every third pew. The service was still available virtually, through live-streaming, for those who could not attend or were uncomfortable gathering.

“We didn’t expect a lot of people to show up, because we are not opening up the nursery for child care, and we have also encouraged all of our church population over 65 to stay home,” Walderman said. “It’s exciting being in the pulpit to preach again instead of just staring into a camera. Our plan is to continue meeting in person every Sunday as a part of consistent re-gathering and getting back to normal.”

The Church of Nazarene in East Rockaway has been open for in-person services since June 14.  “It was wonderful and very emotional to meet in person again,” the Rev. Stephan Hurkens said. “People were thrilled to be back, and we will keep on meeting in the weeks to come.” 

Since reopening, Hurkens has taken a register on Wednesday of everyone who wants to come to the in-person services the following Sunday. Only the first 50 people who sign up are permitted to attend. They must maintain safety protocols.

“There’s a limit on how many people are allowed to attend these in-person services,” Hurkens said. “This has been difficult because by Tuesday most of the spots are filled.”

Upon entering the church, parishioners must have their temperature checked, and hand sanitizer dispensers are available for use. During services, congregants are required to wear masks while singing. While they listen to Hurkens’s sermon, though, they can take their masks off. Attendees are also mandated to remain six feet apart, unless they are family members. Additionally, there is only one bathroom available in the church, and it is cleaned after each use. Hurkens has also told older church members to stay home and watch the services virtually. 

“In order to maintain social distancing, and keep people sitting spaced apart, when one pew is open, the next one is blocked off,” he said. “Services are now one hour long, which is shorter by 20 minutes than the usual services. This allows for less time spent in contact with one another, and it keeps everyone safe.” 

For many other houses of worship in the community, reopening has not happened yet because the spiritual leaders said they are still in the planning stages of reopening, and they want to be cautious. 

The leaders of Bethany Congregational Church of East Rockaway have remained patient about reopening. “We have a lot of people in the high-risk category, and we want to be cautious because no one really knows about this virus,” the Rev. Mark Lukens said. “Based on the size of our sanctuary and social-distancing protocols, we will have to wait until the end of July to open up again.”

Hewlett-East Rockaway Jewish Centre President Harold Kislik said the congregation has not returned to normal services, as its committee is exploring options to seek the safest way to do so.

“We will be continuing to offer programs virtually through July, as we consider safety right now,” he said. “We don’t have any official reopening plans in place yet. We don’t want to put anyone in harm’s way, especially with the upticks in virus cases that we’ve heard about in other states who have reopened with their congregations.”