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Kenosha area churches planning next steps; familiar rituals taking new forms
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Kenosha area churches planning next steps; familiar rituals taking new forms

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Hand holding. Receiving Holy Communion on the tongue. Kissing the Torah. Standing shoulder to shoulder while praying in a mosque.

All are familiar religious rituals giving devotion and honor to God.

With the state’s “Shelter-at-Home” mandate in the past and some houses of worship re-opening, how does public prayer look now?

Beginning next weekend, Catholic Churches in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee may worship in-person as long as they can do so safely, according to Archbishop Jerome Listecki.

The Sunday Mass obligation is lifted until July 5 to accommodate older adults, those with pre-existing conditions or those fearful of contracting the coronavirus. However, parishes must follow a series of rules such as offering Masses at only 25% capacity, as Listecki is using a three-phased approach to gradually return to unrestricted ministry.

The social-distancing and sanitizing directives touch most elements of the Mass, which include sanitizing the church in between services, receiving the Eucharist by hand and no presentation of gifts.

Fr. Robert Weighner, pastor of St. Anne Catholic Church in Pleasant Prairie, said he will cordon off every other row of pews and will bring Holy Communion to each row, rather than having the Communicants come to him.

“I won’t be having any altar servers for now, only the priest will be in the sanctuary,” he said. “We have cleaning volunteers after each Mass who will come in and wipe down the pews.”

The missals and prayer cards will be removed for the foreseeable future, and the church will operate with a reduced music ministry team.

Despite the slow move to unrestricted worship, Weighner said he is optimistic about the future.

“I believe we will get back to normal pretty soon, because we will be following the ever-declining numbers of deaths and this will pass pretty quickly,” he said.

Not all of the Catholic parishes will open next weekend, however.

Fr. Carlos Florez, pastor of St. Mark the Evangelist, explained that while they all long to be together for Mass, he has a substantial number of parishioners who are elderly or immuno-compromised as well as some who have tested positive for COVID-19.

“I consulted with the staff, councils and commission chairs and decided look at a possible start date of June 27 instead,” he said. “If we wait, we can learn from other communities how to take the most effective precautions for when we open and the level of confidence of how our ministers can increase.”

Until the reopening, Florez will continue live streaming daily English and Spanish Masses online on the church’s Facebook page.

At St. Peter Parish, the Mass will return next weekend, but with limited access. To accommodate the 25% capacity and social distance requirements, only families in the same households may sit together in a single pew.

Pews will be marked for sitting locations only. Three singles to a pew and face masks are strongly recommended. Those with any symptoms should stay home. Members can call the parish office to request their choice of Mass time.

In-person services resume

Of the churches contacted last week, only Messiah Lutheran Church in Kenosha has resumed in-person worship, starting last weekend.

There, 50 members are allowed per service, said Rev. James Roemke, pastor, and they must register in advance.

“We will celebrate the Eucharist with the Body and Blood for all gathered and registered,” he said. “The entire service will be printed in a bulletin, so hymnals do not need to be used. Offerings will be received as you enter or leave the sanctuary.”

Roemke said he is carefully balancing the needs and weaknesses of his children in determining when to allow unrestricted access to the services.

“We believe that we receive the true Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, physically present as he says in the Divine Service,” he said.” It is the medicine of immortality, why on earth would we forsake it when things are difficult?

“Didn’t he say, ‘in the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world?’ “

One step at a time

Due to a more elderly congregation, Rev. Cindy Aasen, pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, is not offering in-person services until mid-summer, when she plans to start with an outdoor service.

Though she shared her services online from the beginning of the “Safer-at-Home” mandate, Aasen wanted to find additional ways to reach out to her congregation in a unique manner, such as posting daily prayers and emailing them to members.

“In a time when we can feel so powerless, we have been given such a powerful gift in prayer,” she said. “I also thought it was important to pair the prayers with pictures that I have taken over the years.

“During this time of the pandemic, I have found great peace and hope in my faith in God. To be able to use the gift of prayer to our Lord has been a source of strength that I depend on, especially in these turbulent times.”

Services will not resume in person at First United Methodist Church until sometime in July, also due to a more elderly congregation.

Rev. Susan Patterson-Sumwalt said the church will continue to stream services online after the reopening, but will move from pre-recorded to live streaming through Facebook Live, Zoom and its website

“There will be some people who should not be out because of their health until we are fully behind the pandemic,” she said. “There are some will be fearful of larger gatherings and there are a number of people who simply have gotten used to worshiping online. We do not want to lose any of these people from worship or Christian community.”

Rev. Lenard Tavernelli, pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church, said it is planning to re-open in the near future, but with social distancing practices in place, such as rearranging chairs and avoiding physical contact. Each Sunday, he posts a message on the church website.

“I believe the impact will last at least through the end of the year. I think online messages will be utilized more, as well as smaller group gatherings for the near future,” he said.

“However, God created humans as social beings, so we cannot avoid contact and continue like this indefinitely. I desire to see this lead us to love one another and thank God more for one another, especially to appreciate gathering and worshiping God together.”

Tavernelli said he does not feel that worship will be like it was before the pandemic but is hopeful that some of the changes are for the better.

“I think ‘the new normal,’ as people often call it, will include using technology in better ways to fulfill our mission. I think people will not just return to going through the motions too quickly, but will care for one another and appreciate one another more,” he said.

“And I believe churches that truly fulfill the mission that Jesus has given us in Matthew 28:18-20 will be churches that God uses to impact communities.”

Outside services may be start

When Beth Hillel Temple members gathered to celebrate the Purim Service and Megillah reading in March, no one expected it would be the congregation’s last gathering for the foreseeable future.

Since then, Rabbi Dena Feingold holds weekly Shabbot services through Zoom and streams to Facebook from Zoom.

“There is discussion about returning to in-person (services), but it would not be any time soon,” she said. “If we do it at all this summer, it would be outside services with social distancing and other health and safety protocols, which we have not even begun to discuss or prepare for.”

When in-person services return, Feingold plans to continue streaming for those who are unable to attend. This will help accommodate the wide geographic spread of the congregation as well as assist the elderly who may feel more comfortable attending from home.

“We have already started a Technology Fund for this purpose because we have not had that capacity up to now,” she said.

Discussion has started about what to do for the Jewish High Holy Days beginning in September with Rosh Hashanah and whether to offer virtual services.

“I attended a webinar about this given by our Reform Movement on Monday. There were 400 rabbis in attendance. Our movement is in high gear providing congregations the tools they need to do this if that is their choice,” Feingold said.

“As a congregation, Beth Hillel has not begun to discuss this in earnest. It will happen soon.”

Preparing for a year of changes

When Bradford Community Church Unitarian Universalist last met on March 15, it practiced a “spiritual handwashing,” with no personal contact and used social distancing procedures.

The church remains closed but holds services from its sanctuary through its website.

Rev. Erik Carlson, pastor of Bradford UU, said its national leadership encouraged all UU congregations to prepare for a year’s worth of remote services and closed buildings regardless of changing local regulations.

“This recommendation was made based on Unitarian Universalist values of recognizing the importance of every person, committing to being part of the solution as opposed to contributing to the problem, and our acknowledgement of and trust in the expertise of our medical community,” he said.

“Though the Bradford UU Board of Trustees has yet to meet and discuss the recommendation, we will be prepared to continue to build upon our online services and remote programming for as long as necessary to minimize the impact of COVID-19 on our members and our community.”

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