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With precautions, church doors reopen for services

PRECAUTIONS TAKEN — As they entered Holy Rosary Catholic Church on Sunday morning, members of Triumph of the Cross Parish were welcome to use hand sanitizer and take a bulletin containing hymn lyrics. A sign at the table encouraged parishioners to wear masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, among measures taken as the church and others reopen following a stay-at-home order by state and church officials. -- Warren Scott

STEUBENVILLE – As they entered Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Steubenville on Sunday morning, members of Triumph of the Cross Parish encountered a familiar scene with subtle differences.

Bottles of hand sanitizer were placed at the entrance and other areas, strands of tape were extended across rows of pews to ensure parishioners sat apart from each other and many fellow members were wearing masks.

At a front table were bulletins containing lyrics for the Mass’ hymns, which they were encouraged to take home with them afterward.

While adjusting to those and other measures taken to deter spread of COVID-19, the churchgoers were among many in the state who welcomed the opportunity Sunday to gather in a house of worship after several weeks at home.

The Rev. Tom Nau, the church’s pastor, noted a fifth Mass, at 1:30 p.m, was added to the church’s Sunday services to allow standards of safe distancing recommended by state health officials.

“The bishop (the Rev. Jeffrey Monforton) has been cooperating with Gov. DeWine in all of this,” he said.

Not far away, members of Starkdale Presbyterian Church were adapting to similar changes.

The Rev. G. Carl Moore, the church’s pastor, noted a second Sunday morning service has been added and two deacons disinfect the pews, restrooms, doorknobs and other common areas between the two services.

Moore said the church’s Sunday school and nursery are expected to remain closed until fall, and singing it out for now at the recommendation of medical personnel.

“We don’t mandate masks but we recommend them. We tell people if you feel sick, stay home. Common sense stuff,” he said, adding attendance at the services was good.

Nau said members of the church also have been very cooperative, complying with the changes and volunteering to wipe down the pews between Masses.

“People missed being at Mass,” he said, confirming many had commented on looking forward to returning.

“Receiving Holy Communion was heart-warming for many today,” Nau said of those who approached the altar to accept a wafer representing Christ’s body but not sacramental wine, something that’s not unusual for the church.

He said during the shelter-in-place order, the church was available for independent prayer but he and other clergy turned to social media to livestream services and sermons to their congregations.

Nau said Saturday’s Mass will continue to be livestreamed as there are members who are concerned about potential exposure to the coronavirus.

And not all area churches have resumed in-person services, some still turning to drive-up or online services.

Nau said parishioners who have returned were missing a physical connection to the church and fellow members.

“It’s the interaction people were hungering for. We are mind, body and spirit,” he said.

Asked what it was like to perform a Mass to an empty church, particularly during Easter and Holy Week, Nau said, “It was strange not having the opportunity to celebrate with them. They could see everything online, but we couldn’t see them.”

Moore said during the hiatus he recorded spiritual messages in the church to be aired online.

“It was a strange thing to do that with nobody there,” he said, adding members of his church also were happy to return.

Connie Parise, a member of Holy Rosary, said she was glad to be back.

Parise said she had been viewing Masses on a Catholic television station “but it wasn’t the same.”

“This is wonderful, that this morning we are able to get up and go to church,’ said fellow member Lucia Scaffidi.

Her adult daughter, Mary Grace, said, “We all know church is more than a building but it is a community, and there’s something very satisfying about being able to worship with others.”

(Scott can be contacted at wscott@heraldstaronline.com.)

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