Places of worship start to emerge from COVID-19 restrictions
By Joanne Davis-Turner
Although many have missed gathering regularly to worship, local churches have continued to offer services, prayer, sacraments and teaching during the pandemic.
Gov. Hogan’s stay-at-home order, which took effect on March 30, included churches and precluded in-person gatherings of more than 10 people. Phase one reopening, which started in Prince George’s County on June 1, still limited in-person church worship services to 10 people.
Elder Maurice Turner, who has lived in Hyattsville for more than three decades, has pastored Word and Spirit Ministries, Inc. in Washington, D.C., for the past 17 years.
When the pandemic first hit, Turner was hesitant to alter his weekly worship services. But after officials started taking note of the church being opened against state and city regulations, he decided to “pull in the reigns.”
For the past several months, Turner has been conducting services virtually, and his offerings have even attracted newcomers to the church.
St. Matthews/San Mateo Episcopal Church, on 36th Avenue, continued to broadcast around the world. Their retired associate priest, the Rev. Elena Thompson, said that, despite their building’s being closed for several months, services went out by radio, the internet and Facebook Live. Thompson noted, “As far as Facebook is concerned, our participation has increased!” The Rev. Vidal Rivas, who has been St. Matthew’s pastor since 2008, continued to preach in Spanish to a world-wide radio audience.
Thompson said that Christians around the world are working hard right now, especially those who are caregivers and on the front lines. “Hopefully we are learning to serve one another and encourage one another even more than before,” she noted.
The Rev. Dr. Yvonne. Penn, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church of Hyattsville on Belcrest Road, said that they had been teaching, preaching, conducting worship services and offering children’s time online. “People are starving for the gospel and for good news — we are happy to play a part in that,” said Penn in an interview. “People are closer in spite of politics. We’re more concerned about each other. …We’ve got a GOD thing going on. We will continue to pray for the City of Hyattsville.”
Prince George’s County moved to a modified phase two opening on June 15, which allowed houses of worship to gather indoors at 25% capacity and hold outdoor services for up to 250 people.
The Rev. Scott Hahn, pastor of St. Jerome Catholic Church on 43rd Avenue, said that in phase one, they were doing home visits to minister to individuals. During the modified phase two, the church started opening back up to the public. “We are requiring face masks and providing hand sanitizer at the door. We will block seats for social distancing and will only allow 200 people inside the sanctuary, since the requirement is 25% of full capacity, and we hold 800,” said Hahn. (Prince George’s County moved to a full phase two reopening on June 29, which limits outdoor services to 250 people and allows houses of worship to host indoor worship at 50% capacity.)
“This situation has caused people to reflect on their religious practices and their own spirituality,” Hahn noted.
The District entered phase two reopening on June 22.
Turner anticipates opening the doors of Word and Spirit Ministries on July 5. In a church business meeting in June, he said, “We will sanitize the sanctuary thoroughly the day before.” He added that there would be hand sanitizer at the door, and an usher would make masks available. “We’re looking forward to fellowship once again!” Turner exclaimed.