Some churches expand capacity, others wait and see after COVID rule changes
SILVERTHORNE — The weekend after state and county officials gave churches and houses of worship the go-ahead to substantially increase occupancy at religious services, Summit County houses of worship differed on how soon and how much they’ll be expanding numbers for worship services.
Rev. Jim Doyle, a Summit Catholic Deacon, said in-person services at both Our Lady of Peace in Silverthorne and St. Mary’s in Breckenridge will increase from a capacity of 10 people to a maximum of 40 people beginning with Saturday evening’s 5 p.m. mass at Our Lady of Peace.
“We are going to 40 to make sure we can manage it well,” he said.
The amended county and state public health orders approved late last week state houses of worship, when hosting services indoors, are permitted to use up to 50% capacity or up to 50 people per room, whichever is fewer. Outdoors, the only requirement is that groups from different households are spaced at least 6 feet apart. The same 6-foot physical distancing rule applies indoors.
Doyle said Summit Catholic will use a signup system called Ministry Pro to allow for people to sign up for a specific service. At the church, Doyle said sanitizer will be used extensively to clean each church while church goers and those conducting services, including himself, will wear face coverings and masks. Doyle said if the church deems this weekend a success and believes it can accommodate 50 people during services next weekend, it may increase capacity.
“Our churches are fairly large, so we are able to put 20 on each side of the church spaced-out properly. It’s pretty easy spacing, and then we clean afterward,” Doyle said. “Some families have quite a few kids, and they will be able to sit together, but most will be spaced out by a couple of rows.”
When church goers receive communion, Doyle said those receiving eucharist will do so by holding out their hand. Those giving out the eucharist will then drop it into their hand without touching the receiver’s hand. From there, church goers will have to step more than 10 feet to the side so the next church goer can receive. There will not be an option to drink out of the church cup as part of communion.
“They are really hungry for mass. They are really hungry for eucharist. So any part of the community that we can give them has been wonderful,” Doyle said.
According to Doyle, in normal non-virus times, Summit Catholic can see upward of 300 people at their highest-attended masses.
The state has also left the option open for churches and houses of worship to use multiple large rooms in a facility, as long as each space follows guidelines and each room has 4 walls and a door.
With that in mind, Summit Catholic is considering parish halls as possibilities as expansion rooms for services. Doyle added they are also considering outdoor services.
Rev. Calob Rundell at Father Dyer Church in Breckenridge said the church is not quite ready to resume in-person worship gatherings yet, though they intend to at an undetermined date in the future.
“But what we are looking at doing is finding a system where folks can tell us, ‘hey, I’m coming to this worship service,’ then capping that at 40, that way we have room for 10 people to show up,” Rundell said. “We are a church. We are not in the business of telling people, ‘hey, come back later.’ And we are not going to rush things before we are ready.”
This weekend Father Dyer will continue with its Vimeo web channel virtual services it has undertaken throughout the pandemic. Rundell said when the church returns Father Dyer is still considering how many services to have and when they will take place, as they look to meet the needs of over a hundred potential church goers. He said the church’s most popular Sunday service sees up to 150 attendees.
“But we are also expecting, and I think this is true for most churches, that folks, regardless of anything, may be not coming back to church until there’s a vaccine or some kind of quick and easy cure,” Rundell said. “We think there are those folks, those over 65 or immune compromised for whatever reason, who won’t come back to public gatherings until they are sure it’s going to be OK.”
Some smaller county churches, such as Abundant Life Church and Ten Peaks Church in Silverthorne, aren’t changing anything quite yet. Pastor Kay Robinson at Abundant Life said the church is “trying to get a good gameplan,” planning for a potential resumption of in-person services outdoors in July after the trial time period of reopening this June comes and goes.
As of now, Chuck Straughn at Ten Peaks is happy to continue leading worship remotely through the summer, despite the recent rule changes. Earlier in the pandemic, Straughn crafted a way to host drive-up FM-transmitter to broadcast outdoor services for Ten Peaks throughout the shutdown.
“Most families are 15-20 feet apart anyhow,” Straughn said, “… we had to cancel service one Sunday because it was raining. But we’ve gotten good at it, this mobile church service when meeting outside in the woods, basically.”
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