Churches in the Chicago area are gearing up to have restricted in-person services for the first time in nearly three months.
Though Gov. J.B. Pritzker last week decided to allow in-person worship services, many churches proceeded cautiously. And restrictions remain in Chicago, though some congregations have gathered in defiance of that order, risking citations and fines.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday said she is continuing to talk to religious leaders to develop rules for in-person services, and hopes to issue those guidelines by this weekend, so restrictions could be eased.
Bishop Ron Hicks, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Chicago, sent a letter to church leaders this week with a series of guidelines they must follow as in-person Sunday Mass.
The plan is part of the church’s Phase 2 of reopening which allows for modified public Masses as well as increased attendance for weddings, baptisms and funerals.
“We recognize the desire to know the specific guidelines for other sacraments and celebrations such as quinceañeras, which will be permitted in Phase 2,” Hicks said in the letter. “These will be forthcoming. Right now, our focus is on resuming the celebration of Masses.”
The Chicago Archdiocese said it will limit attendance to 15% of total seating capacity, but no more than 50 attendees — at least the first week. The reason is to allow reopening teams experience in managing and keeping safe its churchgoers, Hicks said.
After the first week, seating can increase up to 20% of a church’s capacity. Parishes must use a reservation system of some sort, whether online or over the phone, to properly monitor and limit attendance. Reservation systems will vary from church to church.
Parishes will also need to retain attendance records for contract tracing if a COVID-19 case is confirmed in the congregation.
Churches are required to maintain social distancing guidelines and have asked volunteers to sanitize constantly. Still, elderly people and those living with underlying medical conditions are asked to stay home and continue partaking in live-streamed or televised Masses.
Parishioners also must follow some rules, including wearing face masks, using only in marked doorways, waiting to be checked in by a greeter and being ushered to pews that are marked to show where to sit.
Parishioners can’t change seats during the service. There will be no offering basket passed, and no touching.
Catholic bishops throughout Illinois worked together with health experts to develop this plan. In Joliet, the plan is very similar.
“The plans, while unique to each diocese, request that each parish develop a plan which includes procedures for sanitizing worship spaces and controlling the seating and entry/exit in a way that minimizes any close contact, so there will be reduced capacity,” said Alex Rechenmacher, a spokesman for the Diocese of Joliet.
Rev. Floyd James with Greater Rock Missionary Baptist Church will hold a virtual service Sunday, but will allow 10 people into his church.
“We will be doing a temperature check at the door, everyone coming in will need a mask or we will provide them with one and we are practicing social distancing with our seating,” James said. “We are taking precautions because we all want to protect our members and community.”
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Even if restrictions ease in Chicago, Rev. Reginald Bachus said he isn’t ready to have in-person services.
Most of his congregation at Friendship Baptist Church, 5200 W. Jackson Blvd, are over the age of 60 years old.
“We are hoping to start having in-person services by July and we will likely have two services and require people to register a head of time,” Bachus said. “We will also collect phone numbers and names of people attending just in case there is exposure.”
Contributing: Fran Spielman