Churches navigate another COVID spike

·2 min read

Jan. 16—ROCHESTER — When Rochester Public Schools announced last week that classes would go remote, area churches also weighed whether to move services virtually.

School officials announced the move last week saying the recent rise in COVID-19 cases has depleted teaching and support staff at schools.

Church leaders often take a cue from public schools when deciding whether to postpone or cancel events and services. Before COVID-19, those cancellations were usually weather related.

Christ United Methodist Church, 400 Fifth Ave. SW, closed to in-person events and services and provided services online and radio broadcast.

Leaders at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, 1212 12th Ave. NW, announced Thursday that the church building would be closed to all but church staff during the week and that in-person worship services would be modified, shortened and include less music through the end of the month. Sunday school, Bible studies and other programs there are also cancelled.

The Rev. Marla Rotman said the staff decision to continue to hold services in person was based on several factors, including the fact that vaccines are available, the church will require (and provide) better masks, distancing can be practiced and that services are available online for people who are at risk of illness or uncomfortable being in public spaces.

"That gives people who wanted to stay home and needed to stay home the option," Rotman said. "We trust people are going to make the right decision for themselves and their health."

Attendance at both Sunday services was at its lowest since services in the church resumed in July last year. Rotman estimated about three dozen people attended in person at each service.

The church has continued to provide online worship services even after resuming in-person services, which made it easier for people to decide to attend virtually.

"We know how to make that shift," Rotman said. "We're not reinventing anything this time."

Rotman said another reason the staff consented to continue holding in-person services was because worshipping in person is important for church members.

"We know the experience of worshipping is always better together," Rotman said.

She recalled when services were held at the church again for the first in more than a year.

"It felt like coming home from a long trip," she said. "People are sentimental about spaces."

However, Rotman added services will be held in person only as long as it's safe for those attending.

Other services churches provide are also being affected by the upswing in COVID cases.

Rainbow Christian Daycare, 624 Third Ave. SW, has had to scramble to train substitute teachers there. Two of the five teachers will now have to stay home with their children who won't be in school the next two weeks, said Cat Thisius, director and teacher at Rainbow.

"We are staying open as long as we have enough staff and our COVID safety measures continue to keep preschoolers healthy," Thisius said.

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