ALLENTOWN, PA - "People, I think, are willing to put up with the social distancing and wearing masks, none of which is comfortable, just to be in church," says Allentown Diocese spokesman, Matt Kerr, "Not having been in church and not having been able to receive communion for three months."
It’s the first time since March, Allentown Diocese congregants are attending mass. Amid widespread COVID19 closures, dozens of parishes were forced to shut their doors and shift services online. But as regions move towards reopening fully, churches are beginning to welcome back in-person worshipers with some changes.
"Everyone has to wear a mask in church, they are only seated in every third pew," Kerr explains, "There is the social distancing so if you sit in pew one then no one sits into the next pews until pew four. Now a family can sit together but if there are people in that pew that are not part of your family, they have to be six feet apart left to right."
Priests are being trained in new safety protocols including how to safely distribute Holy Communion including sanitizing hands in between offerings. Where possible, churches are asking those who receive communion by hand to go before those who choose to do so by tongue and worshippers must maintain six feet while waiting on line. Meanwhile, holy water and hymnals have been completely removed.
But during an ongoing, global pandemic and civil unrest across the country, many are looking towards spirituality to guide them through some of the nation’s toughest times and have been eager to return to their places of worship.
"With all that is going on, the fact that we will be fed spiritually is very important," Kerr tells PBS39 News Tonight Reporter, K.C. Lopez, "That’s how people get through these things; the pandemic and the unrest and all of that is spiritually, so that you can be at church and join your prayers with your fellow parishioners for an end to the pandemic and for an end to the unrest, and the end to the injustice that started all of that."
The Diocese is encouraging those who do not feel safe or have compromising health conditions to stay home. While operating at 25% capacity for mass, parishes under the Allentown Diocese will continue offering virtual mass for those hesitant to return to in person worship.