As vaccines continue to roll out and restrictions are lifted, churches are beginning to ease restrictions and worship is returning to normal. The Severna Park Voice checked in with local churches for an update on how they are currently worshipping.
Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church is currently offering one in-person service at 9:30am that will be livestreamed on YouTube for people who are unable or uncomfortable with attending services. Masks, social distancing and preregistering for in-person service is still required for now. Woods’ senior pastor, the Rev. Susan DeWyngaert, said Woods has reopened slowly, but she is excited to get back to gathering face to face.
“We started regathering in person, which has been wonderful,” said DeWyngaert. “We missed it so much.”
Most of Woods’ ministries are still operating virtually, including the new Dismantling Racism Ministry and the various Bible studies. However, the WoodsWork summer mission trip will take a group of teens to Shelby, North Carolina, to build habitat houses.
To make these important decisions, Woods has established the congregational health team made up of health care workers, church elders and staff members.
“We know that we can do church remotely if we have to,” said DeWyngaert, “so, they’ve been cautious.”
DeWyngaert said she is proud of the congregation's resilience as the church has navigated the pandemic.
“It's been wonderful for me, as a pastor, to watch all the different groups and ministries rethink what we're doing,” said DeWyngaert. “We’re working toward the same purpose, but we're using safer methodologies to accomplish that.”
The Woods community is looking forward to returning to in-person worship, but church leaders are cautious not to return to “normal.” Though DeWyngaert encourages people to begin to return to church, it will continue to offer virtual services for people, like new mothers or older adults, who may not be able to attend in the future.
“We're going to be different as a result of this, but hopefully in a really good way,” said DeWyngaert. “Our goal isn't to repeat what we used to do. Our goal is to improve what we used to do and make it more accessible to everybody.”
Members of the community are encouraged to check back with Woods throughout the summer, as DeWyngaert expects more restrictions to be loosened as more people are vaccinated.
St. Martin’s-in-the-Field Episcopal Church has been hosting one in-person service on Sunday at 8:00am and a livestream at 10:30am. Masks and social distancing are still required. The Rev. Matthew Hanisian said that he is glad to be worshiping face to face.
“Our church loves our church and loves the people in our church,” said Hanisian. “And when we're apart from one another, that makes us diminished somehow.”
While many churches are making decisions on their own, St. Martin’s follows orders from the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, which supersedes the guidelines in Maryland and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It's very data-driven and very scientific in its approach and it's helped keep us safe,” said Hanisian. “For that, I give great thanks for the leadership of our diocese.”
Hanisian said that being together is an important part of going to church, and he is looking forward to the day when the congregation can come back together and continue to establish relationships.
“Christianity is built on relationships,” said Hanisian. “It's been difficult to have a relationship with our congregation. I miss being able to see everybody and hear what's going on in their lives.”
However, the virtual services have not been all bad. Hanisian said the church has established relationships with families all over the country, including a family in Oregon that has been tuning in consistently since the start of the pandemic. For this reason, Hanisian said there is great value in virtual services.
“I think that the big learning is that we need to remember that we're not just doing online worship for our community,” said Hanisian. “We're doing it for a wider audience, and that we need to be welcoming to everybody.”
The Episcopal Diocese of Maryland is basing restrictions on COVID numbers and vaccines, so Hanisian expects to see restrictions loosened soon. He is getting people back to church.
“It's also really nice not to preach to an absolutely empty congregation and then to church with a video camera on the balcony,” said Hanisian.
Other churches are convening as well. Severna Park Baptist Church has followed CDC guidelines throughout the pandemic and is now allowing people to decide whether they want to wear masks for a 9:30am Bible group and a 10:45am worship gathering.
“Some will be ready to show their smile and others not quite yet,” a message on the church’s Facebook page declared. “Please know, we want to warmly welcome every person on our campus. Our hope is to be like Jesus, who considered others more important than himself, showing love to others, especially those we might differ.”
Severna Park United Methodist holds an indoor worship in the sanctuary during a 10:30am livestreamed service (guests are asked to arrive 10 to 15 minutes early). A 9:00am outdoor service will be offered through June and possibly beyond.
Trinity Bible Church has in-person services at 11:00am each Sunday. Masks are not required but they are welcome based on each individual’s comfort level.
At St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church, wearing masks is no longer mandated, although it is strongly encouraged for those who are not vaccinated. Social distancing of three feet is still required inside of buildings.