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St. Agnes Cathedral reopens, while other Rockville Centre places of worship hold off

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Phase Two reopening of Long Island means that places of worship can now open at 25 percent capacity with social distancing, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The Diocese of Rockville Centre has begun following the state’s guidelines, and St. Agnes Cathedral held mass on Sunday for the first time since March. However, many other places of worship in the village have opted to wait longer to hold in-person services.

“It’s a really tough call,” said Rabbi Howard Diamond, of Congregation B’nai Sholom-Beth David. “We have a lot of senior [congregants], and the last thing we want is for one person who’s infected to infect everyone else.”

Diamond noted that the temple has a committee of leaders who are carefully considering when to reopen and how that will look, but no decisions have been made yet. Services are continuing via Zoom video conferencing each week.

Central Synagogue-Beth Emeth is also continuing its online services for the time being and has not indicated when it may reopen. Its worship services, as well as other community programs, are posted on their website and Facebook page.

The Church of Ascension will reopen on the first Sunday of July, said Pastor Kevin Morris. The decision to wait a couple more weeks came out of a need to prepare more thoroughly to meet guidelines put out by the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island.

When the Church of Ascension opens, it will only be for Sunday morning prayer, which will still be recorded and posted online for those who cannot be there in person. 

In the church, each person or family will need to sit six feet apart. Also, there will be no communion service, handshaking or receptions with refreshments. Parishioners will be asked to sanitize their hands when they enter and wear face coverings while in the building. “We are doing as much as we can to limit contact between people,” Morris said.

While practicing caution, Morris expressed excitement to get back to in-person prayer. “It’s hard to preach to a camera,” he said. “When you're at least looking at people’s eyes and in the same room as people, it will make a huge difference. I am very much looking forward to seeing people again.”

Other local churches are also continuing virtual worship services. United Church of Rockville Centre posts new videos on its website each Sunday, and the Experience Vineyard Church live streams its services on Facebook. Calls to the church’s pastors were not returned by press time, and it is unclear when they might resume in-person services.

At St. Agnes Cathedral this weekend, worshippers gathered, but it was unlike the Sunday masses of just three months ago. The Diocese of Rockville Centre said in a press release that it had been in close contact with County Executive Laura Curran about the safest way to reopen, and that she was “tremendously supportive and understanding of our deep desire to return to the celebration of public worship, for which we are grateful.

“Directives are being distributed to all parishes throughout the Diocese,” the statement continued, “along with supplies, in order to assist them in safely welcoming the faithful back to public Masses.”

Parishioners wore masks, and ushers sat each family six feet apart in every third pew. People were also able to receive communion, but in a much slower and orderly fashion to limit contact. The church was sanitized in between masses.