Capital Region houses of worship split on reopening

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ALBANY/SCHENECTADY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Following President Trump’s announcement that churches and other places of worship are considered essential, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued guidelines to help them safely reopen.

The guidelines—described as non-binding public health guidance—include replacing the traditional collection plate with a stationary donation box, or using electronic methods to collect money.

This after the White House pressured the CDC to release such recommendations. As it stands in New York, houses of worship remain at phase four in the reopening process, along with stadiums and concert venues. Yet, President Trump said he would override governors who don’t deem houses of worship essential.

Although guidelines are issued and essential status granted, the way forward remains unclear. Here in the Capital Region, religious leaders are split on how best to reopen.

Pastor Charlie Muller of Victory Church in Albany wonders why liquor stores were considered essential when houses of worship were not. He supports the president, saying they should have been considered essential from the beginning.

Pastor Charlie says we still want to be safe, but we want to be open, but that’s a long time coming.

Some churches say they’re not seeing the same number of people tuning in digitally compared to sitting at a Sunday service. Others have seen a rise in numbers when using digital platforms.

Rabbi Matt Cutler of Congregation Gates of Heaven in Schenectady says, “Our spiritual connection has grown significantly. Our attendance in worship is, I kid you not, three to four times as we normally get.”

However, he has a different take on reopening. “I’ll be more cautious before I invite people into our sanctuary.”

It does not appear that the president has the power to override governors in these matters. Cutler says that even if he did, he’d be reluctant to start services in-person.

Father Jim Konicki agrees, saying the Holy Name of Jesus Parish is in no rush to begin public service. They want to take their time and be cautious, looking out for all members of their congregation.

Konicki says it is important to look out for older members of the community and people at high risk to ensure their safety. He says love must come first.

“Love means that you have to have self control. You have to not rush into things in a way that might cause harm. You know no one wants to be the bomb that walks into a crowd.”

Father Jim Konicki
HOLY NAME OF JESUS PARISH, Schenectady

Konicki says his parish has had digital services for years, which have continued during the pandemic. They have put a set of reopening guidelines in place, from cleaning procedures to keeping the door open during services, and they will be removing any pamphlets or songbooks.

Konicki says if all goes well in the next couple of months, he hopes to begin public services in July.


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