Some places of worship are reopening to the public this weekend for religious services for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic forced them to temporarily close their doors.
It comes after the state announced religious establishments within regions in Phase Two could expand to 25% capacity. The Historic Old St. John’s Church in Utica resumed mass for the public this weekend.
"The first response I got last night, when I'm saying you know, they come back with 'and with your spirit', it almost knocked me over because it was the first time in about three months that I heard it in Sunday liturgy. There are people out here responding, that's awesome, that's wonderful,” said Father Thomas Servatius.
The church is back open with several precautions in place, including ensuring social distancing and keeping everything sanitized. Parishioners also had to register to attend — a way to maintain capacity and provide contact tracing.
"I know Father Tom, and the parish council, and the committee have done a wonderful job of really making safety a priority, as it ought to be,” Patrick Marthage, a parishioner, said.
The mass itself also includes numerous changes; including showing a sign of peace through waving and altering the way communion is distributed.
"We just tell them 'stay in your pews', we're going to come to you, and we simply weave in between the pews because we've got the openings between the pews,” said Servatius.
The church is also requesting parishioners receive communion by hand in an effort to reduce the spread of germs.
Despite these changes, parishioners are excited to be back, after months of exclusively virtual masses.
"Certainly praying at home is important, and having that relationship with God is important on a one-on-one basis, but having the sense of community with each other is equally important, and we've missed that for three months,” said Marthage.
Before the state expanded its guidelines, the church had reopened to focus on certain groups, including children receiving First Holy Communion.