Religious groups can now hold small gatherings & drive-in services

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — Following an announcement by Gov. Cuomo, houses of worship across the state can begin to hold gatherings of no more than 10 people, drive-in and parking lot services starting Thursday.

“At a time of stress, and when people are so anxious and so confused, I think those religious ceremonies can be very comforting,” Cuomo said during his briefing on Wednesday. “But we have to find a way to do it safely and do it smartly.”

Here locally, some leaders say they have concerns that keeping gatherings to less than 10 people will be tough. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said he believes these will be for special circumstances.

“I know the leaders of our houses of worship are looking forward to a guidance for houses of worship. They’ve pretty much been stating that the full reopening would not be happening until phase four,” he said. “So I think this is to allow some that have christenings, weddings or funerals to actually legally be in the facility.”

Cuomo also announced the state put together an Interfaith Advisory Council. Part of that team includes Buffalo Common Council President and Pastor of True Bethel Baptist Church, Rev. Darius Pridgen.

Rev. Pridgen told News 4 Wednesday evening having Western New York representation on this council will be key, especially with the area’s diverse backgrounds and religious groups.

“It’s a relief, and I want to say why it’s a relief – not that churches are open and we’re just throwing open the doors, but that we’re moving in small increments,” Pridgen said. “Ten is better than zero, because it allows a church to learn, to know what they need, to figure out what they don’t have that they need before they have larger crowds.”

The Buffalo Diocese sent the following statement to News 4 Wednesday night:

We welcome the news that churches may begin welcoming back in small numbers those who seek the spiritual nourishment that our parishes provide.  We have been working to prepare the guidance that our pastors need  to ensure that they do everything possible to mitigate the risks of the ongoing threat of the coronavirus, especially for those most vulnerable. Those extensive guidelines are currently being distributed to pastors and parish administrators.  Our many parishes across Western New York will need time to implement the necessary precautions and ensure that there is a consistent approach for safeguarding the health and safety of all who will now once again gather for liturgies and participation in the Church’s sacraments.

Buffalo Diocese Spokesperson

The state previously announced religious gatherings will be part of Phase Four of NY Forward.

Marlee Tuskes is a reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2019. See more of her work here.

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