LIMA — The hymnals are gone. The Holy Water fonts are empty. The collection plate has been replaced by a tithe deposit box. The pews are sanitized after each worship service. Coffee and donuts, once a staple of many church fellowship hours, are no longer served. Even church bulletins, which guide worshipers through their Sunday sermon, have gone digital to avoid unnecessary touching.
This is how churches and religious institutions are re-imaging their worship services to make it safer for congregants and parishioners to return amid the coronavirus pandemic.
For Shawnee Alliance Church, which held its first in-person worship service on May 17, the transition from online-only worship services to in-person worship is a cautious one.
The church will continue its live-stream worship services for congregants who feel sick or don’t feel safe returning just yet. There are hand sanitizer stations throughout the church.
While face coverings are optional, congregants are discouraged from making any physical contact – no more handshakes or hugs at the start of service; no more childcare or nursery for families with young children, who are encouraged to sit with their kids during worship instead.
“We have a kinesthetic children’s ministry,” said Kris Browning, lead pastor for Shawnee Alliance. “It is not: Sit in the seat and face forward. There is no chance for social distancing.”
This is all part of phase one of Shawnee Alliance’s reopening plan. The second phase, expected to roll out sometime this summer, so long as the coronavirus situation in Ohio remains under control, will be less strict.
Browning is looking to the CDC and Ohio Department of Health guidelines for non-contact sports, for example, to decide how Shawnee Alliance will resume its student ministries, which serve hundreds of students on any given Sunday.
“When it’s OK to sit in a dugout, it’s probably okay to space out in a large youth room,” he said. “But those are still down the road. We want to focus our resources on keeping Sunday morning going and then keeping our community outreach efforts, our community ministries. Those would be the next to come back on-line.”
The third phase, Browning said, will incorporate the smarter practices Shawnee Alliance has recently adopted — like touchless childcare check-in — for good.
Similarly, Lima Baptist Temple is developing a touch-free worship service experience.
The church, which halted in-person services in mid-March, will welcome congregants back on May 31.
There will be two identical Sunday services, with childcare and children’s worship during the latter service. But Sunday morning groups and Bible studies won’t return right away. And congregants are encouraged to head straight to the pews, some of which will be blocked off, to guarantee physical distancing.
“We didn’t close because we were scared. We closed because we wanted to protect people,” said Ben Anderson, administrative and discipleship pastor for Lima Baptist Temple, “but we also wanted to support what our government was encouraging us to do.”
Mass will look different too as SS. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Ottawa, along with other Catholic churches in Ohio, resume daily and Sunday Mass this week.
The elderly, the sick and anyone with a pre-existing condition are still being encouraged to tune into Mass online. And those who do attend in person are encouraged to wear face coverings and practice social distancing.
Even Holy Communion – a sacrament in the Catholic faith – will look different, as parishioners line up along the blue dotted lines to receive communion on the hand, no wine, according to guidelines sent to members. Parishioners joining Mass from home can’t have the physical communion but can still make a spiritual communion.