NORFOLK, Va. - Parishioners were back in the pews this weekend. The Catholic Diocese of Richmond allowed churches to reopen for the first time since being shuttered on March 22 by COVID-19.
“You just miss having those connections and talking to everybody in church,” said parishioner Boyd Leeman. “Seeing everybody in person is definitely the experience that we’ve been lacking, so that’s always nice.”
The Leeman family, Meg and her two sons Miller and Boyd, headed to mass at Sacred Heart Church Sunday. Safety guidelines were visible from the outside to the inside. Cones with social distancing signs lined the entrance of the church outside while people were required to wear masks inside.
“The seats have been marked out, so people aren’t left to sit wherever they want,” said parishioner Meg Leeman. “There’s a singles section, a couple’s section and a family section, so I’m feeling good about the measures they’re taken.”
However, for at least one synagogue in Ghent those health and state guidelines are blurry. Rabbi Murray Ezring at Beth El Temple said the sanctuary is staying closed.
“We’re not ready to open; it’s been very confusing because of the series of different guidelines,” said Ezring.
On any given Sabbath, Rabbi Ezring said the sanctuary will have 100 people in it, but for the past few months, services have been moved online. The congregation has grown significantly since the pandemic, drawing people from all over the southeast.
“We have people from California, New York, Florida, and many from North Carolina,” Ezring said. “In order to save lives, it’s better to Zoom than to bring people into the sanctuary and put them at risk.”
Beth El has assembled a committee made up of physicians, dentists, and lawyers to help decide on when and how to reopen.
“We’re trying to figure out how we can open safely,” Ezring said.
Beth El is not breaking under pressure to reopen, despite President Trump's demand Friday for houses of worship to open, declaring services as essential.
“Religion is an essential service in the country, and it is perhaps the only country in the world where there’s true freedom of religion,” said Ezring.
The synagogue’s decision remains steadfast even after the president said he will override states if in-person services are not held.
“No politician overrides God,” Ezring said. “Whatever the community believes is the best thing for the community to do is what we will do.”