At Raleigh Mennonite Church in North Carolina, no one is ready to worship in person, said the Rev. Melissa Florer-Bixler.
Heathy church members could come to an outdoor service. But older members or those with underlying conditions would be left out. And that didn’t seem right.
“We can’t really be church until everyone in our community can meet together,” she said.
The Rev. Jason Poling, priest-in-charge at St. Andrew’s Episcopal in Pasadena, Maryland, about half an hour outside of Baltimore, said his congregation began to meet in person again in June. The church is a “family-sized parish” of about 40 people, he said, with a building that could seat 250. So there’s enough room to safely social distance.
Everyone wears a mask and there’s no congregational singing, though there is a cantor. Poling distributes the Communion hosts, which are kept covered until Poling drops them into parishioners’ hands while wearing gloves. Giving and offerings to the food bank have remained strong, Poling said.
But there are shortfalls that may not show up in studies like the Lake Institute’s. Poling expects the church won’t be able to participate in an interfaith ministry to the homeless called Winter Relief, which houses homeless in area churches each year from November to March. Social distancing rules mean the church won’t likely take its weeklong rotation this year.
“We can’t do it,” he said. “It’s just not safe. We don’t have enough room for people to be 6 feet apart. Our church is not big enough.”
King said that other nonquantifiable worries include fatigue among religious leaders.
“Religious leaders have been really exhausted by all the work they’ve had to do over these past months,” he said. “And continued uncertainty makes it difficult to plan for the future.”
Still, he remains pleasantly surprised at how congregations have responded so far. Congregations, he said, are known for disagreeing about everything from the color of the carpet to human sexuality, he said. But during this pandemic, folks have worked together rather than arguing.
King said he found the results of the study hopeful.
“It leaves many congregations with greater reassurance that we’re all in this together,” he said.
Ahead of the Trend is a collaborative effort between Religion News Service and the Association of Religion Data Archives made possible through the support of the John Templeton Foundation. See other Ahead of the Trend articles here.
This article originally appeared on ReligionNews.com.