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Churches now allowed up to 25% capacity for services, funerals

Ellen Abbott
WRVO News (file photo)

More central and northern New Yorkers were able to return to church this weekend after the state allowed places of worship to reopen with 25% occupancy in the regions that are in phase two of recovery. 

For many, it was their first time back inside a church since March. Danielle Cummings, director of communications for the Catholic Diocese of Syracuse, said it was a relief.

"With all of the uncertainties and what we're going through with conflicts at this time, church is more important than ever and people need to have those doors opened and have their faith fulfilled and to be nourished," Cummings said. "We're so happy that we're at a point where at least the numbers are greater."

But it's not yet back to normal. With only 25% capacity allowed in, Catholic parishioners are still not under an obligation to return to mass and those who do attend must sign up ahead of time. Additionally, face masks have to be worn in the church and gatherings before and after mass are not allowed.

Cummings said this will be the new normal for awhile.

"We don't want to be in a position where we haven't thought through things and people end up being sick," She said. 

Similar changes are required in other places of worship, such as requiring parishioners to stay sit six feet apart, providing hand sanitizing stations, and limiting the sharing of religious texts. The state said churches can even hold funeral services again so long as these protocols are followed.

It's a larger step toward normalcy for the faith community, which in recent weeks has only been allowed to have ceremonies with 10 or fewer people. Yet some churches remained closed this weekend as their leaders try to figure out how to safely reopen considering how many older individuals attend their services. Lawrence Russell, pastor of the United Methodist Church in Sandy Creek, said his services will continue online for awhile because he and many of his colleagues are worried about rushing back before conditions are safer.

"The last thing I would ever want to do is bury one of my members who died of COVID-19, contracted at the church, because we were careless or somehow rushed into this without taking every possible precaution along the way," Russell said. "Just imagine in a church of 35 people burying somebody you know by name who's a good neighbor and a good friend and saying if we hadn't done that, that person would probably still be alive."

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.