ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - One of the state’s largest churches by attendance reopened its doors for normal services on Sunday while many other houses of worship remained under tight COVID-19 restrictions.
Anchorage Baptist Temple reopens for services indoors during the COVID-19 pandemic. (05/24/2020)
Of the 2,200 seats in the Anchorage Baptist Temple auditorium, Pastor Ron Hoffman estimated that around 500 or 600 were filled by people coming for the church’s first in-person service in weeks.
“It’s really exciting, everybody is definitely trying to keep their social distancing and following all the rules,” Hoffman said. “At the same, they’re excited to be in fellowship with one another.”
The service paid tribute to fallen service members for Memorial Day weekend. In attendance was Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, and former Anchorage Baptist Temple pastor of 47 years Jerry Prevo.
The balcony and the sides of the auditorium were designated for people who wanted more space for social distancing. Face masks weren’t compulsory and only a few people wore them.
“We felt very comfortable getting back together, obviously in Alaska we don't really have an issue with this COVID-19, so we're one of the safest places to be, actually” Hoffman said.
Monty Dyson, an assistant pastor and head of maintenance for the church and the Anchorage Christian School, said officials have been keeping areas sanitized. “We’ve been diligent about wiping down surfaces with disinfectant and keeping things as clean as we can,” he explained.
After Hoffman’s sermon, members of the congregation expressed excitement to be meeting again instead of watching services online or listening to them while sitting in cars in the church’s parking lot.
“I miss everybody, I miss all our people, I miss our church family,” said Erica Ramos, a member of the church.
Ramos, who is seven months pregnant with her first child, said she trusted people in the church and that officials would keep it clean. “We know that we have nothing to worry about when we go to church and God is in control of everything. So, we just let everything rest in his hands.”
Ramos’ husband Luis was also ecstatic to come back to church. “I’m very excited, this is what we love to do, we love serve God and praise God,” he said.
Some other Anchorage churches also reopened for services indoors. Others remained under tight COVID-19 restrictions or closed for in-person services all together.
Rev. Matt Schultz, a pastor at First Presbyterian Church, did not know when his church would reopen its doors. “We’re waiting to see what the data says after a couple of weeks and balancing that against what church services actually look like once we’re able to meet,” he said.
Initially, only 25 people may be able to come and attend in-person which means people may need to be turned away. That’s a practice Schultz says would be antithetical to being a pastor.
He added that he knows it’s hard for members of his church to stay home and watch services online. “I relate it to the difference in seeing Bruce Springsteen in concert or just listening to him on your iPhone built-in speaker,” he said.
Congregation Beth Sholom, a Jewish synagogue, will also keep its doors closed for another month. Rabbi Abram Goodstein says services will keep being streamed online.
Some Catholic churches across Anchorage reopened on Sunday in a limited capacity.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Parish had a 50-person limit for its Sunday mass as did St. Benedict Catholic Parish.
St. Andrew Catholic Church held its first in-person service Sunday in its parking lot with church members listening from their cars.
Communion was taken in an unusual way: members of the church drove up to the priest while wearing a mask, they then took the host and ate it nearby. Members were not offered consecrated wine that makes up the other part of taking communion.
“It went great, there were a lot of unknowns,” said Father Arthur Roraff. Around 100 people took communion at the church and the process took 20 minutes.
Archbishop Andrew Bellisario of Anchorage and Juneau suspended the obligation for Catholics to attend mass in-person or take communion during the COVID-19.
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