Some churches in Bloomington-Normal are preparing to reopen, now that Gov. JB Pritzker has relaxed rules for places of worship during the pandemic. But others are still keeping their doors closed.
Eastview Christian Church in Normal is one of the largest churches in central Illinois with 7,000 members. Senior Pastor Mike Baker said having any gathering within the governor's 100-person limit isn't feasible. For now, he said services will remain online-only.
“We’re still scrambling trying to do ministry and trying to do what we are called to do with thousands of people, mostly online and through some other small group things we are trying to do,” Baker said.
Small group meetings could begin in July, he said, and by August the church may use its 240,000-square-foot campus to set up to six viewing locations for worship services of 100 people or less and possibly add more service times to achieve social distancing.
He added the church plans to reopen offices next week and plans to lead live-streamed worship services starting June 14.
Even some smaller houses of worship plan to remain closed for now. Rabbi Rebecca Dubowe of Moses Montefiore Temple in Bloomington said the Jewish synagogue has decided it's still not safe to be together.
She referenced pikuch nefesh, the Jewish law that states “the saving of life outweighs every other principle.”
“In our present moment, to honor this teaching within our tradition, means to continue to keep the temple closed to the public because we don’t want anyone to get sick,” Dubowe said.
She said the congregation has about 100 families and many of them are older and among vulnerable populations. She said they have adjusted well to the weekly virtual services.
Catholic churches in central Illinois also are reopening with Bishop Daniel Jenky of the Peoria Diocese laying out guidelines this week.
Epiphany Catholic Church in Normal will require everyone to wear and a face mask and will provide extras. Pastoral assistant Cindy Myers said she expects people will comply.
“I think that people are a little kinder and gentler and also understand that we are being given these rules to comply with for the safety of all,” she said.
The church,, which is still encouraging parishioners to watch its online services, will have limited capacity for its 1,300 families with seating socially distanced. The holy water fonts will remain empty to limit the risk for coronavirus exposure.
Jenky also is encouraging people to consider attending weekday Mass instead of Sunday service to limit crowds.
The church leaders said the more relaxed guidelines come at a time when many people are struggling with their physical and mental health and need social and spiritual connection more than ever.
“I hear a lot of people in my congregation these days say, ‘I’m just sad, I just miss hugging people, I just miss being with people and seeing them smile, I missing singing the songs in the congregation on Sunday,’” said Baker, who described himself as a typically positive and upbeat person, but said the pandemic has even left him depressed at times.
Myers believes the pandemic and the shelter-in-place orders offered her a new perspective by realizing the challenges of living in isolation that many in older and vulnerable populations do on a regular basis.
“I think this is a real insight for me anyway and hopefully for others to see what these vulnerable populations go through every day,” she said.
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