“Keeping people safe, healthy, and alive is really a primary value in judiasm. “
(Pittsburgh) – Health Secretary Rachel Levine has stressed the importance of slowing down when businesses reopen in Pennsylvania. “Yellow means caution,” she said at a recent press conference. This sentiment has been echoed by religious groups in Pittsburgh who are debating whether or not to reopen their doors to worshipers.
Churches, synagogues, temples, mosques and other places of worship can reopen under the yellow phase, but they must limit gatherings to fewer than 25 people. Most worship services exceed this number, which some believe could result in some people being turned away at the door.
This does not fit the philosophy of open doors and inclusiveness, several local religious leaders have said.
Temple Sinai in Squirrel Hill said it will continue to offer its programs, courses and services on Zoom and via live broadcasts. He put these services online at the end of March.
“Keeping people safe, healthy and alive is really a paramount value in judiasm,” said Rabbi Jamie Gibson. “We have found that we are actually able to create a community – even if it is a two-dimensional community – by being online. “
This two-dimensional community actually resulted in the growth of congregations like the First Unitarian Church in Shadyside. A man who found First Unitarian’s services through their YouTube page recently wrote to Reverend Constance Grant to let him know that his message resonated with him and that he hoped to connect in person once they reopened.
Grant said others have expressed appreciation for being able to watch services when it suits them best, due to work schedules or other commitments. Grant said First Unitarian plans to offer live broadcasts and permanent recordings, even after the in-person rallies resume.
That recovery might not happen for several months, Grant said. She and the board have decided to close their building until August 31, but may extend the closure even beyond that date.
When churches return to in-person gatherings, there is more to consider than masks and hand sanitizer, said Reverend Liddy Barlow, executive minister of the Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania. Legal liability is an unfortunate piece of the puzzle, she said.
“No one wants their church to be a vector of infection because it is the opposite of what the church is supposed to be,” she said. “No one wants someone to get sick, or God forbid, to die, because they have tried to exercise their religious sensitivity or their religious obligations.”
Barlow said many of the organization’s more than 1,500 member churches are taking this time to plan their reopening strategies. The Islamic Center of Pittsburgh does the same. Mohcine Eljoufri, director of the center, said many Muslims are eager to resume some form of in-person service.
“You’re going to say ‘no’ to some people and those people are going to feel kind of a problem,” he said of resuming small group activities. There’s also the awkward requirement to monitor social distancing guidelines at a place of worship, Eljoufri said.
The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh began a gradual reopening of its churches on May 15, the day Allegheny County entered the yellow phase.
“The Commonwealth will continually assess the reopening process and make any necessary adjustments county by county. This means that our parishes throughout the diocese may be in different phases of reopening at any given time, ”the diocese said in a statement.
The diocese plans to resume daily Masses in person on June 1 and weekend Masses on June 6 and 7. More details on these services are expected soon.
The Pittsburgh Buddhist Center in Natrona Heights plans to open for in-person services at the end of June. But for now, Bhante Permaratana, the chief abbot, said the center will continue to offer meditation and teaching programs through its YouTube channel and Zoom meetings.