Caldwell Presbyterian Church

Caldwell Presbyterian Church in Lake George has started a task force to find ways to bring the congregation back safely once churches are allowed to open. The church also plans to continue with its Zoom sermons even after the doors are open. 

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When churches are able to open back up, the Rev. Guy Childs will don gloves and a mask before he gives communion to parishioners and no one will drink from the chalice.

“Mass will be carried on,” he said, “but it’s going to look different for quite a while.”

Childs, known in his parish as Father Tony at St. Michael the Archangel Church in South Glens Falls, has been giving his Catholic sermons virtually since New York churches were ordered to close March 22 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Wednesday that religious gathering of up to 10 people could take place with strict social distancing, but the full reopening of churches is in the governor’s Phase 4 plan, which at the earliest could start July 1.

Childs said the Albany Diocese hasn’t given the go-ahead for its churches to open back up, even with a limited number of people.

Childs called the announcement not a green light but more of a pale yellow light.

When the church is allowed to fully open, Mass will definitely look different from what it once was.

“I’m not sure how quickly everybody is going to come back all at once,” Childs said. “Some people still might be a little skittish.”

Face masks will have to be worn. The church won’t be able to distribute any paper products or a hand-held missalettes, books or Bibles.

Holy Communion is essential to the Mass, but the shared cup will not be offered.

“The priest will still do it, because he has to,” Childs said, “but it might not come back for the people for several months, maybe even into the fall or winter.”

And seating is a challenge.

“The pews, themselves, are relatively close to each other front to back,” he said. “It’s easy enough to space people out left and right by six feet. It’s less easy to do so moving backwards because the pews are very proximate to the next one. That’s something we have to work on.”

There will also need to be strong and workable protocols for sanitizing and disinfecting the church between Masses.

“It might take longer than maybe an hour between every Mass that we have to really do a thorough cleaning that would be necessary,” he said.

Childs plans to continue to offer his virtual Mass, even once the church buildings are allowed to reopen.

“I plan on continuing to do that permanently,” he joked, “only because I’m not going to buy that expensive camera and then not use it.”

Caldwell Presbyterian Church in Lake George also plans to continue its Sunday morning sermons via Zoom, even after the church doors are open.

“It’s a live, real-time connection with people not only from our immediate congregation but from out of state,” said the Rev. Ali Trowbridge, who said “snowbirds” in Florida are also connecting with her on Sunday morning, as well as people from New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

The church is making sure its Wi-Fi and audiovisual system inside the sanctuary is up to speed and ready to continue via Zoom in the future.

She has created a task force that will tackle the steps and necessary safety precautions the church will need to take when it is allowed to open. She would like to reduce the amount of risk to zero.

Caldwell Presbyterian has to abide by the CDC, the state and guidelines set forth by Presbyterian Church U.S.A.

She’s worried about singing in the enclosed space in her small sanctuary.

“The first thing you do when you gather in church is you sing a song to praise God for the opportunity to be there at all,” she said. “And so we’re looking at how to accomplish that in a different way.”

Masks will be worn and the church has ordered packets of self-serve communion that members can take on their own.

The logistics around worship will have to change, she said.

“But hopefully the grace that unites us will sustain us,” she said, “even in the changes that need to be made.”

This article originally ran on poststar.com.

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