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Vero churches cautiously reopening for worship

Photo: The Reverend Canon B. Keith Allen, the rector of Christ Church Vero Beach, hands out a communion to Andrea Royce during the worship service on Sunday, May 10, 2020.

In another sign of life edging back toward some kind of normal, at least one Vero Beach church reopened to in-person worship services on Sunday.

Christ Church Vero Beach held both Sunday School classes and a modified worship service Sunday morning. Parishioners were invited to worship in person but were asked to make a reservation to ensure no more than 40 were in attendance. They were also asked to wear masks, sanitize their hands, and maintain 6-feet between household groups, and warned that anyone over 65 or at-risk should participate in the live stream services instead.

Churches were not specifically forced to close by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ April 1 shutdown order, but a part of the order that prohibited gatherings of more than 10 people made in-person worship services impractical. That restriction was lifted in the Phase I reopening order that went into effect May 4.

“When the governor said that we could meet – and being present with one another is so important – we thought we would give it a whirl and try and do it responsibly,” said the Rev. Canon B. Keith Allen. “We’re not trying to be capricious or cavalier.”

“The nature of the church is to be present with one another,” he added.

Church member Eleanor Dixon was thrilled to be at Christ Church in person after having been only able to participate virtually for two months.

“I’m working from home, and I sit in front of the computer all day long. The last thing that I want to do in my free time, even if it’s church, is sit in front of the computer some more,” Dixon said, adding that she missed “that sense of connection you have when you worship together.”

What surprised Dixon was that the changes made for safety reasons and precautions caused her to be more engaged at Sunday’s service. “You can’t be on autopilot, which can sometimes happen during liturgical worship.”

Taking into consideration the fact that a large portion of their congregations are at higher risk if they contract COVID-19, several other churches Vero Beach 32963 contacted plan to continue virtual worship for a while longer, though they too are planning for a return to people gathering for church on Sunday morning.

While planning for “when” they can allow parishioners to return to the church building for worship, Christ by the Sea United Methodist Church Pastor Bruce Jones said that, as a member of the Florida United Church Annual Conference, they wouldn’t be re-opening before mid-June.

“Bishop Carter wants to evaluate how the virus does as the State of Florida reopens and make sure there isn’t a spike,” explained Jones. “For now, we’re going to continue with virtual worship and Zoom Sunday School classes.”

At Temple Beth Shalom, Rabbi Michael Birnholz said the congregation would continue to engage via the phone and Internet. “Given that a lot of our worship is done through song and music, it’s important that we’re extra vigilant.”

Epidemiological experts have warned that singing broadcasts germs a lot farther than anybody realizes, according to Birnholz.

“We’re being cautious and careful. As long as we are able to create that sense of community – we know it’s not the full sense of community – but it is certainly still meaningful and powerful and incredible to be able to do it through the internet.”

For updates on in-person services, visit your church website.