(Editor's Note: TAPinto South Plainfield made every attempt to include information on all places of worship located in the borough for this article; any congregation that wishes to have service information added or updated should contact DCullen@TAPinto.net.)

SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – With social distancing in effect throughout the country, several of South Plainfield’s houses of worship this week announced a move to online platforms. 

On March 16, spiritual leaders from the South Plainfield Ecumenical Council of Christian Churches (ECCC) – which includes Wesley United Methodist Church, St, Stephen’s Lutheran Church, First Baptist Church, and Sacred Heart Church – met virtually with Mayor Matt Anesh and Councilman Derryck White to discuss how they can follow social distancing restrictions while still meet the needs of their congregations during this challenging time. 

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“We wanted to know what the recommendations were and also pass along any resources we can to help out members of the town,” said James Lee, pastor of Wesley United and a member of the ECCC. “At this point, the consensus is that the best way to help is to stay indoors.” 

With that in mind, Wesley, First Baptist, and St. Stephen’s will hold only live stream services until further notice. “We have all closed our buildings and are moving completely to online worship,” said Lee. “We are going to practice social distancing not as a response out of fear but as a response that demonstrates love for a neighbor and a response of Christian responsibility for our community.” 

Earlier this week, the Diocese of Metuchen, under directives issued by Bishop James F. Checchio, temporarily suspended all public masses and activities, including Lenten services, taking place at both Our Lady of Czestochowa (OLC) on Hamilton Boulevard and the Church of the Sacred Heart on South Plainfield Avenue until at least April 3. Mass will be live streamed daily at 7 a.m. from the Cathedral of Saint Francis of Assisi website (www.stfranciscathedral.org). 

“Following federal, state, and local health safety protocols…there are no public celebrations and gatherings scheduled here… at this time. No public celebrations of Mass taking place here at the parish and across the Diocese,” stated Rev. John Paul Alvarado, pastor, on the Church of the Sacred Heart’s answering service.

The doors of OLC are closed to the public but Sacred Heart remains open from 6:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. for ‘private, personal prayer’ and Alvarado stated daily Mass, presented from a closed service held in the parish center chapel, can be viewed online athttps://www.churchofthesacredheart.net.

While virtual services are, undoubtedly, not the same as those delivered live and in person, Lee said Wesley is dedicated to providing the congregation with a worship service that ‘reflects a Sunday morning experience’ as best they can. “Gathering Sunday morning to worship is still critical to our weekly routine and pattern, especially in this time of uncertainty,” said Lee, noting that his hope is that members of the congregation will gather together on Sunday mornings for the live stream service. 

“The church is not a building; the church is its people and wherever you are, wherever you are standing is holy ground because you physically are the house of worship,” said Lee. “We may be in our homes practicing social distancing but wherever we are we can worship God. Through the online worship, though we may be in separate physical spaces, we can be united in one digital space.”

Moving to an online platform, said Lee, will also enable those who are sick and unable to attend services, especially over the past few weeks, to remain a part of their church community. “I believe in a place of worship, the sick and healthy are welcome to come into the presence of God and I love that through online worship, whether you are old or young, a man or a woman or however you identify, if you are sick or healthy, you can come and worship together,” he said. 

According to Lee, these are challenging times not only for residents and parishioners, but for church leaders as well. In addition to canceling in-person services, clergy are also not being permitted into hospitals to visit sick patients. 

“It’s been tough. We are figuring out how to navigate being pastors at this time,” Lee said, adding that parishioners are also reaching out, asking how they can help their fellow neighbors in need. 

“I think the best way we can help right now is to practice spiritual discipline of social distancing and know that that is what is keeping people safe and loving our neighbor,” said Lee. “The time will come when we have to get up off our couch and I feel then is when we will be able to come together and make a difference.”

Ways to Worship 

• Wesley United: Services at the Plainfield Avenue church will be live streamed at www.wumcsp.org on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.

• St. Stephen’s: The Park Avenue church’s Sunday sermon, along with prayers, will be posted online at https://saintstephenlutheranchurch.wordpress.com; parishioners can also call (908) 757-4474

• First Baptist Church: The Hamilton Boulevard church will make its services available online at http://www.fbcsouthplainfield.com

• Sacred Heart and Our Lady of Czestochowa: A live private Catholic Mass, celebrated daily at 7 a.m. in the Cathedral of Saint Francis of Assisi, can be viewed live at www.stfranciscathedral.org. The Church of the Sacred Heart, located on South Plainfield Avenue, will also post services on its website at https://www.churchofthesacredheart.net

• Impact Church: The New Market Avenue church will live stream Sunday services at https://church4impact.churchonline.org

• Cedarcroft Bible Chapel: Services at the Kenyon Avenue church, according to its website, http://www.cedarcroft.org, have been canceled

• Saint Stephen Church: The Lane Avenue church will stream services with only clergy and chanters in attendance either on Facebook live or through a web link; visit (https://ststephenchurch.net/home) for information

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