As some local churches start to reopen for worship, they have chosen to remain cautious about large gatherings due to coronavirus concerns.
Chris Hull, senior pastor at Zion Lutheran Church in Tomball, said he plans to keep occupancy at 25% for the time being.
“We haven’t jumped up to 50% yet, just because I would rather go on the side of caution than rushing into something,” he said.
Hull said most people have been wearing masks in church because, as he explained to his congregation, wearing masks shows you “love your neighbor.”
“You love your neighbor by living sacrificially for them, and if that's wearing a mask or if its skipping church every other week so your neighbor can go to church instead of you, that’s what you do,” he said.
Hull said the church has adapted in a couple other ways during the pandemic by introducing livestreamed services as well as a drive-up service where he used a PA system so all could hear.
Since opening back up the church to 25% capacity, Hull said church officials have added some safety measures.
“We have a chalice we use for communion, but we wipe it down with Everclear and dry it so there’s nothing on it at all,” he said. “We bleach the pews between each service, so these are practices we will probably continue having anyways.”
In order to reserve a spot at the church, Hull said people must call in and let him know they will be joining.
Hull said church donations have been lower than usual but have not yet caused any issues.
“As we go forward it will become more of a problem with [the poor economy and] a lot of people being laid off,” he said. “[But] so far our tithing has been fine.”
St. Matthias The Apostle Catholic Church in Magnolia not only has to follow state restrictions, but also those of its regional archdiocese, said Chasity Nigliazzo, the parish manager.
“Everything we do is sanctioned by the archdiocese,” she said. “So the governor issues his guidelines, but we also have to abide by the archdiocese.”
Nigliazzo said the church is still at 25% occupancy as the archdiocese has not indicated it is able to increase occupancy.
“We are doing every other pew; our parishioners have to sign up for a seat through our email platform,” she said.
Masses are also livestreamed for those who are not able to attend or are in the high-risk category for coronavirus.
Nigliazzo said collections are down drastically for the church as occupancy levels are so low.
“We are scraping by, honestly,” she said. “From week to week we are operating at reduced hours and staff.”
Because of low collections, Nigliazzo said livestreams are going to be temporary, and as soon as high-risk individuals can attend livestreams will no longer be available.
“We prefer to have our people under one roof all together,” she said.
“Our attendance was best during [the pandemic] because everyone was sitting at home,” he said.
However, Burrell said interacting with people in the community was lost as the service was online.
The church has begun opening back up to 25% capacity and has increased services from two to four services a week.
“We did a 4 p.m. 65 and older only service and a 6 p.m. general service Saturday,” he said. “It was more strongly attended than what I would have expected.”
Burrell said cleaning is done between each service, and greeters are used to open doors to reduce possible points churchgoers would touch.
Reopening further will take time, Burrell said, and church officials will watch how the state and other churches handle the situation. Burrell said the student ministries will be put on hold until school districts start to open back up.
“We are going to wait until schools bring children together; we think that is a good queue for us,” he said.