Suburban ethnic congregations cautiously consider reopening
No hugs, handshakes or huddling together.
Attending religious services will look and feel dramatically different once churches, mosques, temples and synagogues reopen. For minority and immigrant populations, those weekly services often are an integral part of staying connected and building a sense of community.
Many suburban religious leaders are waiting until June to allow worshippers back into sacred spaces as the state's stay-at-home restrictions gradually ease. Others are unsure of a timeline for resuming services as they weigh the risks with an eye toward spikes in COVID-19 cases and health guidance.
Celebrating baptisms, weddings, funerals, and reconciliations, re-establishing Eucharistic Adoration and private prayer with a 10-person limit are the first order of business when Misión San Juan Diego Catholic Church in Arlington Heights reopens on June 6.
Keeping crowds limited will be challenging for the all-Mexican congregation of about 1,700 people for whom such celebratory occasions typically are a village affair, said the Rev. John Dearhammer.
Some brides and grooms are reevaluating whether it's worth having weddings at this time without extended family members and friends present.
"People want to come and they want to celebrate. But these restrictions, as important as they are, will limit the availability of ministering well to people," Dearhammer said.
The church normally has Masses daily and four times on Sunday with roughly 600 people attending each service.
Officials now have marked off pews and floors with tape to space seating 6 feet apart in the main prayer hall and other open areas. A "small army" of volunteers will help sanitize every space and materials touched after each service. Shaking hands to convey peace or sharing a communion cup won't be allowed. Sunday Mass with hundreds of celebrants is still a long way off, Dearhammer said.
So far, two parish families have been hit by COVID-19.
Dearhammer said the church doesn't have the capacity to take people's temperature at the door when services resume, but masks will be required.
For one African-American congregation serving 600 DuPage County families, certain physical aspects of communal worship are key to the church experience. The governing body for the DuPage-African Methodist Episcopal Church in Lisle has issued guidelines that would allow the church to reopen, but local leaders say they're holding off until they can conduct services they feel are needed.
"We're a hugging church," said Morgan Dixon, church administrator. "Some members when they come to church, those are the first and only hugs they get all week."
The AME Church Council of Bishops has outlined extensive guidelines for reopening. Prepackaged communion, not allowing worshipping at the altar and prohibiting members older than 65 or those at high-risk from attending are among the restrictions.
Choir singing is another important component of worship, but due to proximity constraints set by the council in line with the governor's reopening plan, members will not be able to perform together in the same manner as before.
Dixon called the rules "excessive" and prohibitive to the worship experience.
African-American communities are seeing higher rates of COVID-19 infections and deaths, especially among the elderly population. Roughly five members of the Lisle church have contracted the virus and recovered, and about a dozen more have lost family members to it.
Choosing who is allowed into the sanctuary is a decision church leaders would rather not make, and especially, they oppose keeping older members out.
"We're not going to do that because they have been the backbone for years," said Dixon, adding the council's over-65 rule would preclude the church's pastor.
A roughly 150-member congregation of mostly first-generation Korean immigrants in Schaumburg plans to resume services in late June with safety measures in place, including requiring temperature checks, masks, gloves, and socially distanced seating.
The Korean Baptist Church of Schaumburg can accommodate up to 50 people seated 6 feet apart in pews, said senior pastor Andrew Kim, of Hoffman Estates.
"We will encourage old people, young students and sick people with low immune system not to come to church," said Kim adding, roughly 70 percent of members are elderly.
People who are vulnerable can worship in the church's parking lot watching a livestreamed service online.
Communions and baptism will be limited until church leaders can "find a safe way to do it," Kim said.
Technology could be the future of religious worship as institutions adapt to new ways of connecting with their flocks amid crises. It's also why many leaders have no immediate plans to resume in-person services.
Rabbi Sholom Tenenbaum of the Chabad Jewish Center of Gurnee has been giving short inspirational talks and leading studies via Zoom video conferencing for the roughly 750 families served by the center.
"It's an easier medium for them. That's one of the benefits that will come out of (this) -- more people will be able to be involved," said Tenenbaum adding, "From a Jewish perspective, life and death, that's an imperative. We can't put people's lives at risk."