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Clergy, parishioners look ahead past the Covid-19 pandemic

Readying for increased in-person services

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently lifted most capacity restrictions in New York because of the state’s progress with Covid-19 vaccinations and case declines. 

The outdoor social-gathering limit was increased to 500 beginning May 10, and the indoor social gathering limit will be increased to 250 starting May 19.

With the capacity limit increasing both indoors and outdoors, many pastors of Valley Stream houses of worship said they look forward to the next few months as summer approaches. 

“The increase in capacity limit is exciting for me, and we are delighted because our facility has plexiglass that can support a larger amount of people,” said Dr. Sherby Clarke, the pastor of Valley Stream Baptist Church for the past 15 years. “As more and more people get vaccinated, I predict more people will attend my church. Already on Mother’s Day, there were more people attending service than in a long time. I think the increase in attendance was not just because of the holiday, but it was because more people are vaccinated and more comfortable coming out.” 

When the pandemic first hit in March 2020, Clarke said his church had to close and go fully virtual. The building opened two months ago for the first time since the pandemic started for regular in-person services. To attend the church, Clarke said, members must call to reserve a spot and fill out an informational form. Before entering for Sunday services, they must also have their temperatures taken. These changes will continue into the summer. 

“It was difficult when we were only operating on virtual platforms because we couldn’t fellowship with each other, but we tried to do as much as we could through Zoom and YouTube,” he said. “Now we are glad to be back, and our congregation has increased during the time we were only virtual because Zoom allowed for more new people to attend our services that never did before.” 

Clarke said he has not received a Covid-19 vaccination yet because he has a cornea transplant in his left eye, and he is awaiting word from his doctor if it is safe to be vaccinated. If the doctor gives him the OK, he said, he would definitely get vaccinated immediately.

Even with the newly lifted capacity restrictions, Clarke said he is not planning any big indoor or outdoor church events soon. “We are not going to rush to have a huge worship concert outside because we want to work up to that progressively, and we don’t want to rush to have mass gatherings and then have a problem of spreading the virus,” Clarke said. “It makes me feel safer to know more people are vaccinated, but we want even more people to get vaccinated.”  

Patricia Brewington, who has been secretary of Valley Stream Baptist church for 15 years, said she is comfortable attending church services because of the plexiglass. “Even with the increased capacity limit, I haven’t heard Dr. Clarke speak about removing the plexiglass that we have set up in our church,” she said. “Even with Governor Cuomo’s changes, we are still following social-distance protocols.” 

Brewington said her faith helps her to remain optimistic about the future of the pandemic. “As a Christian, we know that God is in control,” she said. “We just have to have faith that God will see us through this time.”

The pastor of Unity Church of Christianity in Valley Stream for over two years, the Rev. Charles Foley, said his church has been physically closed since March 2020, and has instead hosted services virtually using Zoom. 

Despite spending a year and three months of the pandemic online, Foley said he hopes his church will return to in-person services by July. “We are happy to hear about Governor Cuomo lifting the restrictions on capacity limit, even though we are a medium-sized church of about 65 people,” Foley said. “Our church has been working very effectively during this time of being strictly virtual. Our congregation is slowly growing while we are virtual, and we are getting people watching from coast to coast.” 

Foley said he is pleased to know that more people are hearing about Christianity. He said he is able to reach more people with his ministry because of virtual platforms. 

“I’m spreading the word of God to people further away now because we are virtual,” he said. “We are very happy to touch anybody. The majority of my congregation appreciate that we are virtual, even though we miss fellowship and camaraderie in person.” 

Despite the ongoing pandemic, Foley said he trusts in God and encourages his congregation members to put their faith in God. “Our faith has kept us more positive and more psychologically healthy during this time of separation, and we remain optimistic even while staying at home,” Foley said. “We are hopeful for better things to come, and my hope is that the pandemic allows us to develop a greater understanding of our oneness with God.”