BACK TO THE PEWS: Houses of worship returning to in-person services

Call it a new year’s homecoming of sorts as some houses of worship begin to reassemble amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Columbus resident Phil Miles acknowledged it was good to gather with friends Sunday at Community Church of Columbus for worship for the first time in two months — even if welcome-back hugs will have to wait a bit in these socially-distanced times.

“I’m a hugger,” Miles said. “And most of my friends are huggers. But people obviously are reluctant about that. There were mostly fist-bumps and elbow bumps.”

The church currently is generally limiting its in-person attendance to 25 percent of its 900-person sanctuary capacity, according to Rodney Lucas, director of operations. But he said he doubted leadership would be turning away any people.

A total of 110 people attended its masks-required first service and 210 attended its masks-recommended second service, he said. Most in second service wore masks, and Lucas said the attendance figures were a good sign.

“We felt very good about that,” he said. “I think that was a good indication to us that it was time to reopen and come back.”

Streamed services will continue indefinitely at 10:30 a.m. Sundays, Lucas said.

There are no current, specific, mandated city, state or federal guidelines about house of worship attendance maximums. The biggest local impact that altered in-person services unfolded in November when Bartholomew County’s COVID cases spiked, and Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop met virtually with about 35 pastors and asked them to consider online-only services for a time.

His meeting unfolded at a time when the United Methodist Churches in Indiana had just announced they would move to online-only worship to protect people’s health.

First Christian Church leaders announced days ago that they will return to in-person services on Feb. 6 while its streaming also will continue.

“We are encouraging everyone to do what they feel is best for their families,” an emailed newsletter reads. “Whether you are ready to meet in person or you’re not quite ready yet, that is OK. During these trying times, let us know how we can care for you and your family.

“Please continue to pray with us for an end to this pandemic, our medical community, those who are sick and their families, and for our church family, community, and nation.”

Some houses of worship are not quite ready to consider gathering together again. The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbus is among those.

“We are committed to the collective health of our community,” said Nic Cable, the congregation’s minister. “At this point, we encourage people to follow Centers for Disease Control recommendations, get vaccinated, and take care. We will return when we can all return.”