Reopening Friday? Suburban places of worship aren't in a rush
Religious services at many suburban congregations aren't likely to resume this weekend even as the state begins to ease restrictions on public gatherings.
Suburban Catholic churches won't be celebrating Masses just yet, but some parishes whose leaders have been trained and certified by the Archdiocese of Chicago will reopen in the coming weeks for sacraments, such as celebrating baptisms, weddings, funerals and reconciliations, re-establishing Eucharistic Adoration and private prayer with a 10-person limit, church leaders say.
"If we can't have the safety of folks, then we can't open," said the Rev. John Dearhammer, senior pastor at Misión San Juan Diego Catholic Church in Arlington Heights, which will reopen June 6 limiting groups to 10 people and requiring masks.
Having Sunday Mass with hundreds of celebrants is still a long way off for the all-Latino congregation of about 1,700 people. The church normally has Masses daily and four times on Sunday with roughly 600 people attending each service.
"How do we safely distance people while still respecting people's right and privilege to come and worship on a Sunday?" Dearhammer asked.
For now, officials have marked off pews and floors with tape to space seating 6 feet apart in the main prayer hall and other open areas in anticipation of resuming in-person Masses. Worshippers won't be allowed to shake hands or share a communion cup. Officials also are recruiting volunteers to help sanitize every space and materials touched after each service.
Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington also won't be opening for in-person weekend worship services in the near future.
"Our staff teams have been working with local authorities and health officials to form a multistep plan to reopen based on data, not dates, While our desire is to be together, we are placing the safety of our church family and neighboring communities at the top of our priority list," a church statement read.
Other religious centers have allowed limited worship to continue in small groups since the governor permitted gatherings of under 10 people.
The Sikh Religious Society Palatine Gurdwara has been allowing individuals and families to worship in pairs. "We don't get more than five or six people (a) day," said Pardeep Singh Gill, president. "We have been conducting wedding ceremonies with less than 10 people."
Worshippers attending religious programs in-person must wear masks, check-in at the gurdwara's front counter and answer a series of COVID-19 screening questions to determine whether they have symptoms or have been exposed.
Gill said nothing much will change as the governor's reopening plan allows gatherings of only 10 people during phase three. "We are not going for all-out opening. The desire is there, but they understand the gravity of the situation."
The Islamic Community Center of Des Plaines also is allowing on-site prayers for fewer than 10 people in compliance with social distancing mandates.
Typically, more than 1,000 people attend Friday congregational prayers and between 50 and 75 people attend each of the five daily prayers. Officials anticipate resuming congregational prayers with 50 people at a time in later phases of reopening.
The Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago is creating a task force to plan for safely reopening mosques, said Fazal Mahmood, ICCD president.
"It's not up to us when we want to open," Mahmood said. "We will continue with this until we are safe and the vaccine is (available)."
For some churches, having Sunday services for only 10 people isn't practical.
"Even when we do reopen our facilities ... it will not be what people are used to, at least not initially," said Jeff Frazier, lead pastor at Chapelstreet Church, whose 3,000 members worship at three campuses in Geneva and Batavia.
Frazier said he would rather wait until about 150 people -- about 30 percent of each church's capacity -- can gather at a time with social distancing in place.
"We have waited this long out of concern for safety and an abundance of caution. What's a few more weeks? It won't kill us," he said.