As the Capital Region entered Phase 1 of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s reopening plan, Sunday morning provided one of the first in-person services for church congregations.
Pastor Adalberto Nieves delivered his Sunday morning service from the steps outside the Iglesia Pentecostal Dios Proveera Church at 1312 State St. to social-distanced and mask-protected parishioners.
It was a welcome change for many churchgoers since the COVID-19 pandemic began and the New York Pause stay-at-home order was introduced.
“Our normal Sunday [service] would be going through Facebook Live, but because the weather was good we came outside, spread the chairs six feet apart and everybody came with their mask on,” Associate Pastor Angel Raul Cartagena said via phone interview; he assisted with the morning’s service. “We were just spreading the word of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and send a message out of salvation.”
Nieves and Cartagena have utilized Facebook Live throughout the week to host virtual services and each Sunday’s traditional morning services.
This Sunday’s event was a welcome change.
“It was very special; it’s been a long time,” Cartagena, a 2006 Mohonasen High School graduate, said. “These months [that] we haven’t been able to get together have been tough.
“We do miss it and enjoy coming to the house of the Lord and spending time worshiping. Today was special to have everyone come out.”
The small crowd was spaced out, sitting in metal folding chairs while younger churchgoers stood on the sidewalk, wearing protective masks, and held up signs supporting the church and their beliefs.
“Those that were driving by honked their horn in response; a lot of people were on bikes and some people stopped to listen,” Cartagena said. “It was good to see the response of everyone driving by, happy, waving at us, enjoying it.
“It was good to see everyone we haven’t seen in a while because of the pandemic.”
The announcement from Cuomo on May 20 encouraging the resumption of church gatherings on a limited basis was welcomed across the area’s numerous denominations.
“Our people are hungry for a return to their parish communities and this is a first step,” Mary DeTurris Poust, director of communications for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, said in a press release May 19.
“Although the Diocese is not yet ready to open parishes for Sunday worship, we do believe this easing of restrictions will allow for baptisms, funerals and weddings to proceed, all while respecting social distancing requirements.”
On May 21, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany updated its reopening plans including guidelines for the gradual reintroduction of public liturgies and worship with specific instructions for funerals, weddings, and baptisms.
The directive includes following the direction from the government and CDC including limiting initial public services to not exceed a 25 to 30 percent capacity inside any venue.
The 17-page document goes into detail regarding the flow of parishioners in and out of the church along with how to administer the Eucharist during Mass.
Prior to Sunday’s outdoor service, the local church embraced the recommendations within its walls during Facebook Live services.
“We have been stressing it with everyone,” Cartagena said. “Washing hands, safe distances, masks on at all times. We know how serious this is.”
Like other congregations across the state, as services can become more populated, each must plan accordingly.
“We’ll continue sanitizing everything inside the church, taking temperatures, asking them if they are feeling well, following all the new guidelines,” Cartagena said.
For Sunday, it was a blessing to host their first service to people in attendance.
“It was an idea that the pastor brought to us and we thought it would be a good idea to be able to fellowship outside and spread the news of Jesus Christ,” Cartagena said. “It was a perfect day to be outside.”
Reach Stan Hudy at [email protected] or @StanHudy on Twitter