Local religious centers split on return to in-person services

Local religious centers split on return to in-person services

Ritually cleaning their bodies, donning masks and setting prayer mats down six feet apart from fellow worshippers, Muslims gathered at the Islamic Center of Wallingford to observe the Eid al-Adha holy day on Friday.

The mandatory cleaning of oneself before prayer, known as the Wudu, is doubly important during the coronavirus outbreak, said Abdus Salam, a member of the mosque’s committee. Hand sanitizer and extra masks have been made available throughout the mosque. Before prayers begin, the imam instructs worshippers on proper distancing.

“It is part of our faith — before you can pray, you have to clean yourself,” Salam said.

The faith allows Muslims to conduct Friday prayers — usually the day of communal prayer — in their homes. For those who come to the mosque, the capacity of the main room has been reduced and a second room opened for overflow with a monitor to stream the service.

Over a month after the state began allowing places of worship to resume in-person services, clergy are grappling with the best ways to keep their congregations safe while continuing to keep them connected to their faith.

“This is uncharted territory for all of us and we’re trying to figure it out like everyone else,” said Rabbi Micah Ellenson of Temple Beth David in Cheshire.

Most of the synagogue’s services are being held via video conferencing software, however, since the state began to allow worshippers to congregate again in June, Temple Beth David has resumed holding some activities at the temple. For its observance of Tisha B’Av on July 29, the temple had a service on its lawn and has also had camp days for children.

The weekly worship services on Friday evenings remain virtual and a decision on when to bring the community back inside continues to be reevaluated daily.

“We’ll do what we’ve been doing all along: listen to the professionals and make a decision,” Ellenson said.

Continuing to work from the temple, Ellenson and a few other staff members have been in communication with other rabbis as well as clergy from other faiths to share wisdom and ways to keep people tied to their beliefs.

When members of his community ask for counseling, Ellenson has been largely speaking with them over the phone, however, he’s also held some meetings on the temple’s lawn or outside homes.

“I think that in some ways with or without the pandemic, religion provides an anchor for people … it anchors them spiritually which is not a small thing,” he said.

St. Paul’s in Southington

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Southington is also continuing to hold its services online after polling members about returning to the pews. Based on the feedback, Senior Warden Jennifer Hinekley said the church is looking at reopening in August.

After the church closed its doors, St. Paul’s began sending out weekly written sermons from its priest and online links to services at the Washington National Cathedral. The church’s administration began creating their own live-streams in June.

“People go to church for a variety of different reasons and they are still getting what they needed from the virtual services we are providing,” Hinekley said.

St. Rose in Meriden

Sunday Mass resumed in person at St. Rose of Lima in Meriden in June, though the Catholic church’s capacity has been reduced from around 300 to just 40 worshippers at once, plus staff and volunteers.

Those who wish to attend Mass must pre-register on the website or call into its office to ensure that the service doesn’t exceed capacity. Registration also allows the church to notify parishioners in the event someone at Mass tests positive for coronavirus.

Volunteers keep track of the number of people entering and exiting the church and check temperatures before worshippers are allowed inside. During Mass, only instrumental music is being played following guidance from the Archdiocese of Hartford that prohibits singing over concerns that choirs could spread coronavirus.

“I think we are doing OK and people have been very patient and people are following the rules and everything,” said secretary Vinary Parra.

dleithyessian@record-journal.com203-317-2317Twitter: @leith_yessian

"This is uncharted territory for all of us and we're trying to figure it out like everyone else."

-Rabbi Micah Ellenson, Temple Beth David
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