Keep worshipping, but just do it safely

Today is Palm Sunday, but like many, I won’t be spending an important part of my day in church hearing the reading of the Passion of Christ.

And I won’t be collecting my palms and holding them up high for our priest to bless them before the start of the liturgy.

Instead, I will participate this afternoon in a “drive-up” procession to collect a bundle of blessed palms through my car window from the latex-gloved hands of church volunteers.

As we begin what is considered the holiest week of the year for Christians, I may watch Mass on television, and I’ll make phone calls to my loved ones instead of spending time with them in person.

Yes, this is the new normal — one that we all hope comes to an end soon.

We had been hoping Gov. DeWine’s stay-at-home order would have ended by now. Instead he extended it until at least May 1. In response, the Youngstown Catholic diocese announced Friday the temporary suspension of all publicly celebrated Masses and liturgies through May 3.

Out of deep concern for the common good, as well as the physical and spiritual well-being of all the people of Ohio, the Catholic Bishops of Ohio have agreed once again to cooperate with the governor’s direction,” said Msgr. John Zuraw, chancellor at the diocese.

Sadly, that means no Palm Sunday Mass today, no celebration of the Easter Mass next week, nor for several weeks to come.

Still, isn’t it amazing how we Americans continue to find ways to adapt?

Last week, this newspaper reported how area church services are going on via social media. Our religion reporter Bob Coupland wrote about a Valley United Methodist church holding worship in the church parking lot.

That church pastor stands at the front of the parking lot to lead the worship and prayer. People stay in their cars listening to FM Channel 88.1 on their car radios. The church uses a transmitter to broadcast its service across the FM radio frequency, reaching about 35 cars for about 200 feet.

I have read about others using similar, albeit lower-tech drive-up services, by preaching via bullhorns.

And some churches also are taking to handing out bags of communion wafers ahead of time for home.

It’s uplifting, really, to see the desire for prayer, hope and camaraderie.

While this is a very different scenario, I recall after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on our nation how Americans turned to God and religion. I remember our news reporters writing local stories about the houses of worship that, up until then had been experiencing sparse attendance, suddenly again becoming crowded with prayerful attendees searching for answers and meaning.

Unfortunately, not everyone is following the governor’s rules laid out for the welfare of us all. I saw a story from the Associated Press last week in which a southwestern Ohio mayor was pleading with a church to “reconsider” holding in-person services.

DeWine has stopped short of banning churches from holding in-person services, but noted this week he believes it is a “huge mistake” for those large gatherings to occur.

“We believe that the doors of Solid Rock Church should remain open. It is in these times of crisis that the church should play a critical role as a place of refuge — a place where anyone can come to pray, to worship, and to find healing and hope,” that southwestern Ohio church said in a statement on its website, according to the Associated Press story.

Certainly, I get that reasoning. But let’s do it sensibly, folks. As has been demonstrated by other places of worship, it is possible.



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