The Rev. Daniel Greenleaf will offer Mass at 7 a.m. at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston on Monday, the first Catholic Mass held indoors since the COVID-19 pandemic sent worship services into parking lots across Maine. Pews marked by bows are 6 feet apart and are the only pews that an individual or family can sit in. The remaining pews are blocked off by string. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

The Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston can easily seat more than 2,000 parishioners for Mass. But when churches reopen this week, less than 50 people will be in the pews.

The ban on indoor religious services due to the COVID-19 pandemic ends Monday, according to the governor’s phased reopening of Maine. Social distancing guidelines and gatherings limited to 50 people are forcing faith communities to change how they gather to worship.

Out of concern for their elderly parishioners, many churches have no plans to reopen any time soon. That includes Temple Shalom, the local Jewish church, the First Universalist Church of Auburn and St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, which will not reopen for indoor public services for several weeks or even months.

“We’re definitely not reopening,” said the Rev. Jodi Cohen Hayashida. “The head of the Unitarian Universalist Association told us we should plan not to reopen until May of next year. She was very clear in her letter that the science could change.”

“We’re not even considering reopening,” Rabbi Sruli Dresdner of Temple Shalom said. “We need to be more cautious.”

Joel Olstein, left, of Auburn listens Friday evening as the family of Rabbi Sruli Dresdner plays music during Shabbat service from the porch of Dresdner’s home in Auburn. Temple Shalom’s doors are closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so Dresdner, his wife, Lisa, and two children, Charlie and Johnny, have been holding services through videoconference. Friday was the first Shabbat service that Dresdner held outside. Olstein came to watch in person while most parishioners watched via Zoom. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

The basilica is the only Catholic church in Lewiston to reopen as Holy Cross and Holy Family will remain closed to indoor Mass.

“We are opening one church in Lewiston because then we can manage the sanitizing and cleaning after Mass,” said the Rev. Daniel Greenleaf, pastor of the basilica and the Prince of Peace parish. “Hopefully by July, if all goes well, we will open all the churches in Lewiston.”

State guidelines restrict mass gatherings to a maximum of 50 people. That number includes the officiants and attendants so the actual number of people in the pews would be approximately 45-48 worshipers.

Church services at the basilica are already reserved on weekends for the month of June.

“We still have weekday Masses open and encourage anyone who has not made a weekend Mass to join us on a weekday,” Greenleaf said.

Greenleaf said the church, including seats and pews, will be sanitized after every service. All door knobs and handles, altars, bathrooms and touched surfaces will be cleaned. Certain pews will be closed to allow parishioners to maintain 6 feet social distancing. Arrows on the floor will direct worshipers to communion.

Arrows on the floor of the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston direct people as to which direction they can walk.

Parishioners must wear masks.

For those who cannot get a seat in the basilica, the service will be livestreamed. The church will also host an outdoor service in the parking lot Sunday at Geiger at 9:30 a.m.

Temple Shalom will continue to use Zoom for its services and other synagogue functions. The congregation includes many older individuals, who are more susceptible to the COVID-19 virus.

“We’re still not ready to get off Zoom,” Dresdner said. “We’ve kind of gotten use to the Zoom thing. It’s not a perfect solution, but we want to be cautious.”

It was a “learning curve” for Dresdner and his worshipers, but he said everyone seems comfortable using Zoom.

The rabbi said it will be several weeks before he even thinks about reopening.

At the First Universalist Church of Auburn, Hayashida will continue to livestream services. While some worshipers would like to return to indoor church services, Hayashida does not want to split her congregation into those who attend church and those who are not yet ready for large gatherings.

A large part of her service involves singing, but the spread of COVID-19 through respiratory droplets increase that risk of contamination.

“Singing is a large part of worship,” Hayashida said. “And that is one of the worst things to do now.”

Her church will continue using Zoom and livestreaming on Facebook to maintain her community.

St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Auburn said it will be at least six weeks before it will open, according to a news release. To stay in contact with its elderly members, the church has organized drive-by parades to visit their homes.

According to its website, East Auburn Baptist Church began offering limited indoor seating in its sanctuary Saturday and Sunday. Seats were available on a first come, first serve policy with social distancing. Those unable to get indoors could listen to the service on the radio in the parking lot.

The church will also offer a drive-in service Sunday morning.

Representatives for East Auburn Baptist Church and the Pathway Vineyard Church did not return calls seeking comment.

The Rev. Daniel Greenleaf will offer Mass at 7 a.m. Monday at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston. It will be the first Catholic Mass held indoors since the COVID-19 pandemic sent Mass into parking lots across Maine. So that 50 people can be seated 6 feet apart and still be able to see Greenleaf, the Mass will be livestreamed and displayed on two large screens. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal


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