FAIR LAWN, NJ – Local houses of worship may soon be able to welcome their congregations back for in-person services.

As long as the COVID-19 outbreak in New Jersey continues trending downward, Gov. Phil Murphy said religious services might resume on the weekend of June 12 and that he plans to issue rules for indoor worship soon, such as how many people would be allowed to congregate.

Since March, in-person services of more than 10 people were prohibited, as part of the state’s effort to curb the spread of the virus. In recent weeks, as the state has eased restrictions, houses of worship have been permitted to offer drive-in services and outdoor services with a limit of 25 people.

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At the Fair Lawn Jewish Center, Abe Adler, executive director, said they’re “still working to determine the right procedures and protocols to ensure that any reopening has health and safety as the highest priority.”

“This will take time and cannot be rushed,” Adler said. “Our reopening date is yet to be determined but June 12th is too soon for us.”

The center will continue to hold its services virtually, said Adler, adding that the online offerings “have been well-received by both our members and the greater community.”

David Boone, Senior Pastor at Van Riper Ellis Broadway Baptist Church, said they plan to hold a drive-in service outdoor the weekend of June 12. Worshippers can remain in their cars and tune into the service via radio. In the event of rain, the service will be held inside, he said. http://www.vanriperellis.com 

“We have masks, gloves, distanced seating and many other precautions in place so that all will be safe in worship,” Boone said. “From Father’s Day on, we will still offer the drive-in feature, but will be inside our church – with all the safety measures in place.”

Locally, the Church of St. Anne, part of the Archdiocese of Newark, has been active with streaming its services online but has not said when in-person worship could resume. https://www.stannefairlawnnj.org/welcome 

The state’s Catholic dioceses – Newark, Trenton, Camden, Metuchen and Paterson – have indicated they are making plans in anticipation of new guidelines from the governor and haven’t made any official announcements yet about restarting indoor Masses.

Last month, St. Anne’s opened for private prayer and confessions, which is part of a phased reopening plan by the Archdiocese for its northern New Jersey churches.  https://www.rcan.org/covid19 

Under Phase 2, churches could resume weekday services, funerals, baptisms and weddings, however Sunday Mass would still not be permitted. Services would be limited to a maximum of 10 people, including priests, and safety measures, such as mask wearing and social distancing, are required. The final phase will permit Sunday Masses, with masks and a limit on the number of people, according to the Archdiocese.

On Friday, the governor, during his daily COVID-19 media briefing, praised New Jersey’s many communities of faith for having “taken truly to heart the need for social distancing to protect the health and safety of their congregations.” https://nj.gov/governor/news/news/562020/approved/20200529c.shtml 

“I, and my administration, will continue our deep partnership with our faith communities as we work through the proper safeguards that will need to be in place before we can welcome our communities back into their houses of worship,” he said.

“Our houses of worship are cornerstones of our communities — often rooted in historical and cultural tradition,” Murphy said. "We want them to be strong — and safe. This is especially meaningful in our communities of color, which have been hit particularly hard.”

Virtual Worship

Over the past three months, many churches and temples opted to go virtual and live-stream services in order to give congregants a way to worship amid the pandemic.

Many have gone beyond just streaming services, offering prayer and bereavement groups, children’s programs and other faith-based activities. 

At Van Riper Ellis Broadway Baptist Church, Boone said besides recording services and posting online, they’ve also held virtual meetings of various church groups, like its Bible Studies group.

“The key has been staying in contact with everyone and trying to meet any needs that have arisen,” he said.

At Temple Beth Sholom, services are being conducted regularly on Zoom. Torah lectures and cooking demonstrations are also being offered virtually as a way to keep members in touch with one another.   https://www.tbsfl.org 

Over at Congregation Ahavat Achim has been hosting virtual services, classes, youth programs and children’s programs. They’re also using social media to send special birthday wishes to congregants celebrating in quarantine.  (http://www.ahavatachim.org

Rabbi Mendel Zaltzman of Bris Avrohom of Fair Lawn said it’s important for houses of worship to try to connect as much as they can with the community online right now. The temple has been offering everything from services to reflections to story time with the rabbi. (https://www.jewishfairlawn.org

In a blog post, he wrote, “While we are used to spending time together on Shabbos, praying, singing and celebrating, this current situation does not allow us to get together physically. However, we want to keep as much of what we are used to going in a safe way.”