When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit the United States in mid-March, many people looked to their churches and places of worship to help them through a difficult and uncertain time. While many people were caught off guard by the magnitude of the pandemic, Pastors Dan Bachner of St. Raphael Catholic Church and Derek Webster of Grace Pointe Naperville both knew early on about the serious nature of the coronavirus.
“I was actually in Northern Italy when it closed down so I was seeing the COVID effects right from the very beginning,” explained Fr. Bachner. “I was in Rome when they closed all the churches and the Vatican was empty so I kind of knew exactly what was on its way to the United States.
Churches Closed Due to COVID
With in person gatherings out of the question due to safety concerns, most places of worship turned their services into a virtual experience.
“Within a week churches closed and then we went to live streaming which is very different for priests because you don’t have any of your faithful there,” laughed Fr. Bachner. “But it was a beautiful gift because actually when you are looking at the camera you knew they were on the other side. Thank God we had put a system in about two years earlier. So for us it wasn’t a huge adjustment, we had the camera, we had the equipment, so it wasn’t a big issue.”
“We’ve developed this text messaging system where people can text in and say “I’m here, I’m present, Pray for me, I’m Praying for you,” Pastor Webster described,” We’ve also seen this renewed commitment for families to say it’s Sunday, let’s get together and then let’s discuss what’s being said.”
Opening For Groups of 10
Although churches in Illinois were initially able to reopen for small groups of people back in May, St. Raphael, Saints Peter and Paul, Grace Pointe and most other places of worship in Naperville kept their services virtual until mid-June, allowing time to prepare staff, volunteers, and parishioners to open as safely as possible.
“When we did decide to reopen we very much took a crawl, walk, run approach,” said Pastor Webster. “The crawl looked like groups of 10, meeting in different rooms, meeting around screens, social distanced, face masks. But very much being alive and in person. And then walk began to reintroduce live music and live preaching, still socially distanced with face masks. Again all the responsible things we need to do.
Guidelines For Wider Openings
For the past two weeks, St. Raphael held weekend masses with attendance up to 100 people per mass, which people sign up for ahead of time.
“When they come in, they have to have their masks on, we spray their hands kind of like they are doing everywhere and then they are seated in a particular area. Families that live together can sit together, but other people are coming in six feet apart,” Fr. Bachner described. “I find everyone is usually understanding about what we are asking from them. It really is all about safety and care. Of course we have let go the sign of peace people normally extend a sign of peace with a kiss or shaking hands. Now we just do the head nod.”
The ability to meet in person once again, even with smaller capacities created an emotional response for the clergy and parishioners.
“I didn’t expect it but this wave of emotion came up once people were finally there in person again and it got really emotional. I think the faithful feel that too when they come back to church,” said Fr. Bachner.
Pastor Webster shared, “We’ve taken different approaches week to week. Tried to maybe add an element here or subtract an element there, very much based on what is happening around us. So for instance, if it’s a sunny day we might meet outside. We want to continue with the pattern. Hebrews talks about not giving up on the habit of being together and so we’ve been trying to commit ourselves to the habit even when the form and methodology changes.”
While there is still a lot of uncertainty in the world, the Naperville area faithful know that their chosen place of worship will be there for them, whether they are participating in person or in their living rooms.
For Naperville News 17, I’m Justin Cornwell
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