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Race, Identity & Faith

Local Churches Are Headed Back To In-Person Worship

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Nat Thomas | St. Louis Public Radio
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The Archdiocese of St. Louis is asking that Catholics return to Mass beginning July 1. Many other churches also are beginning to return to in-person services.

St. Louis Catholics, one of the largest faith groups in the region, are headed back to in-person services.

The Archdiocese of St. Louis is lifting its dispensation of obligation for all its parishes July 1, requiring able-bodied Catholics to return to Mass. Maria Lemakis, a spokesperson for the archdiocese, said people are ready to experience Mass together again.

“Being together and being part of that community is really such a huge part of our faith and how we express our faith,” Lemakis said.

Masks will not be required for parishioners who are vaccinated, but they will for those who are not. Each parish will have individual safety measures that will be put in place, with some streaming services online. Parishioners who are ill, homebound or immunocompromised are exempt from obligation.

Like the archdiocese, many other faith groups are opening houses of worship to in-person services again. The rules vary from place to place, but faith leaders say keeping their congregants safe remains a priority.

The Episcopal Diocese of Missouri has its own set of guidelines for churches within the diocese. That includes putting limits on the number of people who can attend indoor services, requiring social distancing and asking those who aren’t vaccinated to wear masks. And some congregations still say no singing.

“People understand that there are still folks in our community who are unvaccinated,” said Jon Stratton, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church.

He admits he’s heard some “illicit singing” from members in his congregation. “So these measures are still a sign of love for neighbor. There are children in our community of course who cannot be vaccinated yet.”

Mount Bethel Missionary Baptist Church is requiring social distancing, temperature checks and masks for everyone at services. The Rev. Maurice McDaniel, pastor of the church, said that so far, many in his congregation have been receptive to the changes, but some members are still apprehensive about coming back.

That’s why the church is still offering online services and an outdoor service on first Sundays in the church’s parking lot. McDaniel said that’s opened the service up to people in the community, as well.

“One thing this pandemic has done has kind of pushed churches outside of its four walls; I believe that’s a great thing,” McDaniel said. “So I think we will continue to go outside and have worship, to sing songs and to preach and those sort of things.”

Congregation Temple Israel is slowly easing back in. In June, the synagogue went back to in-person worship with limited capacity, open only to members. Congregants have to make reservations to attend services, and masks are required at all times. The synagogue is no longer doing temperature checks, and congregants do not have to show proof that they are vaccinated.

Senior Rabbi Amy Feder said people are adjusting well.

“People have been wonderful,” she said. “They have been following the rules, and so far it feels really good. So my hope is that we will continue to be able to keep reopening a little bit each month.”

Feder said the next challenge is preparing for the High Holy Days in the fall when many Jews attend services. That’s why the synagogue is taking it one step at a time. Along the way, she said, hybrid services will still be offered.

“We’ve heard from a lot of people that they actually like staying at home and watching services and being able to sit in their garden or make dinner while they’re listening to the service,” Feder said.

Other faith groups are holding off on in-person services a little longer.

North Park United Methodist Church is working to get safety measures fully in place before returning to in-person services, including blocking off pews for social distancing, encouraging masks and sanitizing the church after every service. Senior Pastor Sheila Bouie-Sledge said she’s incorporating both online and in-person services as a compromise.

“They’ve gotten used to having their cup of coffee and getting up and smiling and seeing each other's faces,” Bouie-Sledge said. “And then I have a crowd that says: ‘I can’t stand Zoom. I can’t look at all those people. I don’t want to be on the computer screen.’ So I’ve got to give everybody the best that I can, little bit of what makes them happy.”

So far, no one in her congregation has been hospitalized with COVID-19, and Bouie-Sledge said she hopes that doesn’t change after they return.

Follow Marissanne on Twitter: @Marissanne2011

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