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Pews fill up at area churches

Social distancing, masks are in vogue

Area churches have held worship services online or in parking lots as people practice social-distancing safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In late May and early June, churches began reopening their doors for congregation members. More churches are planning to return to in-person worship this summer.

Monsignor John Zuraw, chancellor of the Diocese of Youngstown, said Catholic parishes began to reopen for Masses in late May.

Zuraw, pastor of St. Rose Parish in Girard, said the weekend of May 30-31 congregation members came back to church but not in large numbers. In more recent weekends, attendance has increased with social distancing and mask-wearing.

He said older members are more cautious on coming back with those who do wearing masks.

“We had a soft opening for Masses on May 25 with more people attending in June. We are aware of our surroundings with there being spaces between people sitting in the pews,” Zuraw said.

The Rev. Frank Glenn of Glenn Christian Foundation Church in Warren Township said his church returned to in-person services June 7.

“That first week we did return did not have as many because people were not sure if they wanted to come back with a mask and social distancing,” Glenn said. “This week, we had a lot more people once word got out, and attendance is back up. People really seem to be happy and glad to be back at church. I am glad to be back to work at the church.”

He added parishioners still maintain social distancing and no contact with the offering. Hand sanitizer is provided.

Glenn said no plans have been set yet for the such events as the annual summer picnic and fall festival.

He said the church did offer a recent safety training class.

Van Padula, a deacon, said he offers critical injury first-aid training at churches through Training Specific of Hubbard to help people in case someone has a gunshot or knife wound.

“We do this for church congregations or anyone who is interested. It is better to have the training and not need it instead of not having it at all,” Padula said.

“What many people did not know in the state of Ohio, there was never any restrictions for churches. There was the concern of 10 or more people together,” Glenn said. “We received a letter from the health department and had our own self-imposed restrictions in place for the safety of people when we opened up. It was good to have our own restrictions in place.”

St. Patrick Parish in Hubbard returned to in-person Masses in late May after the Diocese of Youngstown received approval from the Catholic Bishops of Ohio.

The Rev. Michael Swierz said the people appreciated being back.

“It is a joy to be able to come and pray in person instead of having to watch it on a computer for all these weeks. Since we reopened, more people have been attending,” Swierz said.

Julie Bencetic of Hubbard said she likes that people can be back inside the church and have some contact with others while social distancing.

“I missed my church family. I am glad we were able to watch on YouTube when we had to, but it’s great that we can be back and honor the local graduates,” Bencetic said.

Lisa Bednarik of Hubbard said, “It makes you realize how social media can play an important role, but it can’t take the place of the old-fashioned way of worship.”

Second Baptist Church in Warren returned to in-person services and is offering one on Saturday evening and two on Sunday mornings.

Carol Cambridge of Warren said she returned to church in late May.

“It is nice to be back and sit in a church not necessarily in your same seat, but to just be able to sit in the sanctuary even with social distancing. You could wave and smile to others. I am seeing more and more people come back to church,” she said.

Pastor Todd Johnson said while social distancing and other guidelines are followed, it is good to have people come back into the church for praise and worship.

First Baptist Church in Niles has two Sunday morning services but no evening or Sunday school services.

Jen Burman, wife of Pastor David Burman, said plans to dedicate a new addition to the church were in place, but everything has been put on hold.

“We want to wait until we can get everyone back at the church, and we will invite the mayor and other city officials,” she said.

Burman said the church opened in late May and tries to have the older congregation members attend the earlier service at 9 a.m. and help keep everyone six feet apart.

She said the 11 a.m. service has grown in number, so more chairs have been put up and people have used the balcony.

“Everyone has been excited to be able to get back and get to have a little more normal worship,” she said.

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