LIMA — Fears of COVID-19 is likely to impact church attendance.
On Thursday, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, banned gatherings of 100 people or more in an effort to stem the spread of the virus — but his order didn’t apply to churches.
On Thursday, The Catholic Bishops of Ohio directed parishes to allow members to skip Mass for the weekends of March 14-15, March 21-22 and March 28-29.
In a statement, the Bishops said “Out of charity and concern for our brothers and sisters in Christ, we encourage all the faithful, in particular those who are sick, experiencing symptoms of illness or are at risk of illness seriously to consider refraining from Mass attendance. As much as possible, we would like to see parish Mass schedules remain unchanged to allow the faithful to offer worship to almighty God and receive the great grace of the sacraments during this trying time; however, we recognize that this may not be possible because many of our senior priests may themselves be at risk. We ask for understanding and flexibility in this regard.”
Father David Ross, who oversees both St. Rose and St. John’s Catholic Church in Lima, is concerned for his parishioners.
“This is a terrible thing to happen at this point in our lives but first and foremost, we want to take care of the health of the people who came to Mass. We’re concerned about being able to meet the needs of the people and no matter what you say, no matter what the Bishop says about advising people not to come, some people are going to come, so we leave it up to them. That’s the way Catholics are, I guess,” Ross said.
Several changes in the way Mass is conducted has been implemented.
“For example, just during this period of time, we’re not drinking from the cup. We’re not exchanging the sign of peace. We’re not greeting each other before Mass, so that we limit the contact between all of us,” Ross said.
Allen County Public Health put out a statement Friday, providing some guidance for churches.
“We urge church leaders to offer alternatives to attending church service in person, using social media platforms and other streaming services or provide call-in options if possible.”
Lima Baptist Temple plans on going ahead with their regular Sunday morning schedule.
A statement on the church’s Facebook page indicates “As a church leadership team, we believe it is important to continue to meet together to inspire and offer hope.”
Many others have decided to curtail services.
St. John’s United Methodist Church in Columbus Grove has canceled services for the next two Sundays.
First Mennonite Church in Bluffton has canceled Sunday school and worship services for Sunday, March 15. Leaders plan to hold a service, but there won’t be anyone in the pews. They will make a video of the service available for parishioners at fmcbluffton.org on Sunday afternoon.
Westside United Methodist Church in Lima and Trinity United Methodist Church in Spencerville are canceling all religious activities on March 15 and March 22.
“We received a message from our Bishop Palmer in the West Ohio Conference which stated he is strongly urging all West Ohio Conference churches to cancel public worship for the next two weeks,” said the Rev. Joshua Andrews in a Facebook post. “This is not a decision he has taken lightly and these precautions are for the health and safety of everyone.”
Trinity United Methodist Church in Lima is canceling in-person worship services and instead will offer online worship at 11 a.m. Sunday morning.
Trinity United Methodist Church in Ottawa is also closing for the next two weeks.
New Creation Lutheran Church in Ottawa temporarily suspended worship services through the end of March.
“This decision didn’t come easily,” said Pastor Ken Pollitz in a post to the church’s Facebook page. “As a council, we sought to be as thorough as possible in an attempt to disseminate the deluge of information we’ve all been virtually bombarded with in the last few days and weeks. The council wanted to err on the side of caution as we attempt to navigate forward through this really unprecedented time.”
Reach Sam Shriver at 567-242-0409.