Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday revealed the state’s re-opening plan, which includes a rough timeline along which organizations in various sectors might re-open. Up first were places of worship (up to 40% occupancy), beginning May 18. But don’t expect Wellesley’s religions houses to rush toward re-filling those pews. They’re all still praying on it.
Despite the new guidelines, religious organizations in town are taking a cautious approach under advisement of each of their own committees as they study the situation carefully. Services and masses, which have been online for weeks now, will continue in that vein, while baptisms, weddings, and funerals will be managed on a case-by-case basis.
Temple Beth Elohim‘s (TBE) Rabbi Joel Sisenwine in an interiew said, “Preservation of human life and health is one of the great values in Judaism. In the rabbinic tradition we’re told to sacrifice certain joys of religious life in order to preserve life, and that is true today.”
Sisenwine said the synagogue, which has not scheduled a re-opening date, has gone as far as temporarily re-branding itself. For now, call it TBE Online.
Milestone Church‘s Pastor Jay Mudd in an interview agreed that now is not the time to take COVID-related health concerns lightly. “We’re huggers at Milestone,” he says. “That’s just not going to work right now.”
Mudd noted that when services do resume, worship will look different than before. According to the Milestone website, “We will have to limit interaction and worship with only a handful of people in the room. Your overall worship experience will be much different than you expect.”
Day by day
No church or synagogue offices are staffed right now. A pastor or rabbi might stop in briefly to record a section of the upcoming online worship service. A bare-bones cleaning crew does the rounds of chores quickly and at a distance from one another. Phone calls either go to voicemail or are picked up by a staff member working from home.
When the buildings do re-open, expect to see masks on clergy and worshippers; plenty of sanitation supplies available from hand sanitizer to bleach wipes; and even plexiglass shields in some offices to protect staff as they interact with the public. All scenarios are currently up for discussion including traffic patterns throughout the spaces and a dismissal system that could look less like a meandering flock headed out in to the world and more like a military operation.
It seems likely that most sanctuaries will remain closed until fall, which could be the most sensible course given that attendance at Wellesley churches and synagogues already trends downward during the summer months. The closest to opening may be St. John and St. Paul’s. Weekly mass attendance is a precept of the Catholic Church, although dispensation from the Sunday Mass obligation has been granted to the faithful for now.
According to Wellesley Village Church (WVC) pastor Sarah Butter in a statement on the church’s website, “I am not ready to reopen WVC for public worship or gatherings until we discern it is in the best interest and well-being of all. For now…worship will be remote and small groups and meetings will continue to gather on-line.” WVC is looking to work toward a phased reopening, hopefully in the fall.
The commandment has been delivered loud and clear: Love they neighbor as thyself — but do so at a distance.