One of Rochester’s largest churches will resume in-person services Sunday.
Although churches were given the OK to hold in-person services the last week of May, most have been cautious about opening their doors.
Churches and other spaces were ordered closed in March as part of an effort to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Under state health guidelines, churches were allowed to open at 25% of their occupancy, but many are still holding remote or parking lot services as they develop plans to protect parishoners.
Autumn Ridge Church will hold in-person services at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. Sunday for the first time since the statewide closure.
The church wants people attending to wear masks while they’re at the church campus.
“We’re trying to be prudent and loving,” said Paul McDonald, connections pastor at Autumn Ridge.
Reservations to attend are also required. Sanitizing stations will be set up throughout the facility. Families and members of the same household may sit together but are asked to maintain a 6-foot distance from other people.
The opening will follow a 25-page plan developed by church leaders and a reopening committee -- which included an epidemiologist, McDonald said.
Despite these precautions, church leaders encourage people who are considered vulnerable to the respiratory virus to continue participating in livestream services.
McDonald said he expects about 225 people at each of Sunday's services -- less than 25 percent of the church’s 1,100-capacity sanctuary.
Church leaders held a run-through of in-person service last week with friends and family. McDonald said it was moving to see the sanctuary full again.
“It was tremendously emotional for me,” he said, adding this Sunday will probably be even more so as people congregate for the first time in 14 weeks.
Christ United Methodist Church has been holding parking lot services every other Sunday and this week will allow people to get out of their cars as long as they stay within their own household and family unit and maintain social distance from other people.
The Rev. Elizabeth Macaulay gives her sermons and the church band plays from a flatbed trailer.
After weeks of giving sermons remotely and not seeing members of the church in person, Macaulay said it has been nice to see church members’ faces, even if it has been through windshields. This weekend will be a nice change as well, she added.
“We can see peoples’ whole bodies,” she said. “It will be wild.”
The church will conduct five confirmations Sunday which will include a photo of each person taken in the sanctuary one at a time, she said.
“For some people, they haven’t been in the sanctuary since early March,” Macaulay said. “It will be beautiful.”
Church leaders there are still drafting protocols for in-person services in the sanctuary. Masks will be required and physical distancing will be enforced, Macaulay added.
“We’re Methodists, we’re being methodical,” she said.
At 25% capacity, 80 to 90 people will be able to be in the sanctuary. Reservations will be required too. Should a parishoner contract COVID-19, these rules also help with contact tracing.
These changes at Christ United Methodist probably won’t happen until mid-July, leaders said.
Despite weeks of remote and services, Macaulay said people have been understanding and patient.
“I have not gotten any pressure from anyone in the congregation,” she said.