Ohio churches each develop their own plans for re-opening

TOLEDO (WTVG) - The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired many people to lean more heavily on their faith. So it's understandable that people are asking about the reopening of churches.

While many churches did close to keep parishioners safe, state officials say were never ordered shut down.

In calls to several churches in the area, no two reopening plans were alike. Some churches are restarting in-person services as early as this Sunday while some do not yet have a firm date.

"I guess since we're talking about churches, to be our brother's keeper to love our neighbor as ourselves and to try to make sure we're responsible," said Lt. Gov. Jon Husted at the daily Ohio COVID-19 press conference Monday.

Churches in the area are doing their best to live up to Lt. Gov. Husted's words.

"Our guidelines are to protect our people and to keep our people safe and those they may come into contact with," Bishop Daniel Thomas of the Catholic Diocese of Toledo said in a May 9 Zoom interview.

The diocese plans to have a soft opening starting this Memorial Day Monday.

"For Catholics, the Holy Eucharist and Sunday Mass are the source and summit of our faith, so for us, this has been a great sacrifice," says Bishop Thomas.

The diocese has an extensive list of changes it's making to keep people safe, which you can read here.

Just across town, the west Toledo parish of the Lutheran Church is also balancing a desire to congregate with safety concerns.

"We took a survey of our congregation and with all the limitations we'd have to do between all the masking and not singing ... we just didn't get much positive response," says Pastor Steve Smithberger of Epiphany Church and All Saints Lutheran Church.

"What we've decided to do is just hold off ... and then maybe look at it at the end of June and see where we're at."

As churches grapple with how to adapt to this new reality of masks and online worship, some things never change.

"Where the spirit of God is, there's something special going on," says Smithberger.

Churches in Ohio are allowed to hold services, and leaders are figuring out how to do that safely. If anyone is concerned about returning, the Catholic dispensation from attending mass continues, and other churches are continuing to stream their services online. Call your church directly if you have questions about its plans.