On Friday, President Trump declared church services as essential services. This was met by outrage from both secularists, as George Neumayr described in his Sunday column, and the NeverOpeners, who seem content to have the country at a standstill indefinitely. There are also legitimate concerns for churches reopening, as they could be prime gatherings for COVID-19 spread. Fortunately, many religious leaders and communities are taking safe and intelligent measures to mitigate these risks.
This Sunday, I was blessed to attend a Catholic Mass in my hometown of Chesapeake, Virginia. According to the Virginia Department of Health, Chesapeake has had 449 total cases, meaning about 0.2 percent of the city’s population has been confirmed to be infected with COVID-19. Even with this extremely low infection rate, my parish still took precautions to protect the safety of parishioners.
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Capacity was limited, and all attendees had to answer a list of questions related to COVID-19 and travel. Doors were left open so no touch contact would occur, each family group was seated spaced away from others, and masks were required during the entire service. Everyone complied with the mask rule, including young children. During the service, the priest and deacon were not masked for most of the time, but they were far enough away from everyone that it was not of concern. During the reception of communion, the priest and deacon donned masks, passed the host in the hand, and recipients moved off to the side, then consumed the host after slightly moving their mask.
This situation was of course not ideal, but it allowed parishioners to participate in corporate worship, the importance of which is made extremely clear through various passages of the Bible, such as 1 Corinthians 14 and Hebrews 10:25. The service also allowed many at the parish to participate in the Sacrament of Holy Communion for the first time in months. For Christians, and anyone for that matter, our spiritual and religious lives are essential. Being able to experience a Mass in person for the first time since before Easter brought me a lot of peace, tranquility, and joy, as it did for my family. While it couldn’t be seen, I’m guessing most people were smiling under their masks for most of the service.
Not only were we able to participate in something essential, but we were able to do it safely. The church was far safer than the crowded “essential” 7-Eleven I was in the previous day, in which I was the only masked person. Churches that are opening should be doing so as quickly and safely as possible. Allowing churches to make their own decisions, free of government interference, in these matters is what our Constitution calls for, and we should recognize that religious leaders have a vested interest in keeping their flocks safe.