Some WNY Churches open with limited capacity for first time since pandemic

Local News

CLARENCE CENTER, N.Y. (WIVB) — Governor Cuomo has given houses of worship the green light to reopen under phase two. Some churches in Western New York held services in person Sunday for the first time since the pandemic.

“I could tell people smiling underneath their masks, you could just see the glow on people,” said Andre Toman.

The doors of the church are open here at The Chapel at Crosspoint. Houses of worship across the state are now allowed to reopen under phase two, but only at 25 percent capacity. Church goers must follow social distancing guidelines and wear masks.

At the Chapel, people must register for service.

“So our 9 o’clock service sits in different rows than our 11 o’clock service so you won’t be sitting in the same seat than someone before you,” said Jerry Gillis, lead pastor at The Chapel.

For Andre Toman, it was refreshing to get back to worshipping with his church family.

“There’s a little bit of getting used to with all of the social distancing and everything like that. I didn’t feel like the sense of worship was impacted negatively by it by any means,” said Toman, a member of The Chapel.

“It was emotional because we got people dealing not only with the effects of the pandemic but also with this national conversation around justice that’s going on no better time than now for the church to be the church and be able to worship together as one body as diverse and beautiful as it is,” said Gillis.

Some church leaders have reopened their doors this weekend but others tell me they’re not rushing to do so.

“25 percent is an interesting number, it sounds like an increase but for most congregations in mainline denomination around Western New York it’s not that helpful of a number because it’s probably still very low around the 20, 30, 40 people at most,” said Steve Biegner, pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.

Pastor Steve Biegner says his church will continue providing online services through the end of summer and will reevaluate in the fall.

The Buffalo Diocese says the decision to reopen churches is left up to each pastor.

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