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Churches mull best approach to reopening

With the recent move from the red phase to the yellow phase established by Gov. Tom Wolf, some churches have taken the first step to reopening, while most have taken a more cautious approach and are waiting to see what happens next.

For congregants at First United Methodist, there have been a few changes, according to Matt Lake, lead pastor at First Church.

“In shifting from the red zone to the yellow zone, we are continuing all of our online ministries. Really the primary shift that we are making is just for groups that would want to gather in groups of under 25, That’s either allowed or encouraged while following the guidelines we’ve been given of either wearing the mask and the six feet. So, we are still not in a place for gathering for worship as a large gathering on Sunday mornings,” the pastor said.

“We’re not really that different than businesses opening up, keeping that mandated space and everything,” he added.

He stressed that the members of his congregation who are taking advantage of being able to meet would do that in smaller spaces and not in the main facility.

For Catholic Churches in Bradford, Lycoming, Sullivan and Tioga counties, the Diocese of Scranton had issued guidance for allowing churches to gradually resume masses during the yellow phase on May 18.

The directive from the diocese encouraged churches to continue livestreaming masses and limiting in-person services to 25 people. Weddings and funeral masses would also be limited to the same number of people.

At St. Boniface and St. Lawrence Catholic churches, a reservation system has been put in place during the yellow phase. According to instructions on the church website parishioners are asked to sign up for one mass a month in order to allow others an opportunity to worship. Social distancing and wearing masks are also required as stated in the directive from the diocese.

St. Mark’s Lutheran Church is continuing their online services and is taking a wait-and-see approach in terms of when to open for in-person worship. According to the Rev. Brian Vasey the church council had decided to wait until Lycoming County was in the green phase before fully opening the church for worship services.

An online search of many of the local churches which have been closed since the beginning of the shutdown revealed that most are choosing to continue with virtual services during the yellow phase.

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