Vero churches adapt to virus conditions in range of ways

Overview of the seating at Holy Cross Catholic Church on Sunday, June 28, in Vero Beach. [Photo: Brenda Ahearn]

Churches on the island and around Vero Beach have adapted to the ongoing pandemic in a range of ways, with some allowing large congregations and personal interaction in their sanctuaries, while others operate with greater restrictions – or have remainedclosed.

Last Sunday’s services were the first conducted by the brand-new pastor of Holy Cross Catholic Church, Father Thomas Barrett, who came to Holy Cross following the March 22 death of the church’s longtime pastor, Father Richard Murphy. It was a day on which Barrett normally would have warmly embraced his new parish family. Instead, he had to keep his distance.

The church has been open since May, with stringent precautions and requirements, says Parish Administrator Debbie True. “We have a lot of elderly.”

On a typical pre-pandemic Sunday, the narthex would have been filled with worshippers prior to the 10:45 a.m. service, chatting, greeting one another, dipping fingers into the always present holy water font, and finding seats in the beautiful sanctuary.

But Sundays this summer aren’t typical.

The holy water is gone, and just outside the entrance is a large poster listing coronavirus guidelines. All worshippers, except the service leaders, who remain safely distanced from the congregation, are required to wear masks at all times – except when taking communion.

The narthex and sanctuary aisles are marked for social distancing and there are no bulletins or paper of any kind. No clusters of people, no pre-service chatter.

Mostly, there is silence. A large bottle of sanitizer stands on a narthex table. A masked greeter raises his hand in welcome.

Orange tape neatly blocks every other pew and large X’s on open pews indicate where not to sit. True says that from a 1,000-person seating capacity, distancing requirements have dropped capacity to only 175, and that “we haven’t filled [the available seating] yet.”

It is startling to see only 100 or so people, mostly seniors, in so large a space, including several couples and quite a few singles, each pew holding no more than four. No offering baskets are passed and there are no hymnals or other hand-held materials. Instead of the usual moment-of-greeting segment of the service, everyone simply turns and waves to other members of the congregation. Not being able to see someone smile, and knowing your smile can’t be seen, one lady remarked, feels very strange.

As at several other area churches, Holy Cross’ Music Director Roger Kroger has put every hymn, order of service, prayer and litany on Power Point pages, which can be projected onto large screens. Another beloved tradition, gathering to chat after the service, is no longer permitted.

Despite all those restrictions, Father Barrett conducted his first service on the island with warmth, charm and a sense of humor last Sunday, announcing among other things that one of the church’s A/C units was out.

Meanwhile, a couple of miles north on the island, Christ by the Sea United Methodist church, which reopened on Father’s Day, has now closed again following a spike in coronavirus cases, with streaming services only and staff working remotely from home.

Across the Barber Bridge, First Presbyterian Church reopened on Memorial Day with masks required for everyone, says Senior Pastor Tim Womack. As at Holy Cross, there is social distancing and no hand-held materials. Because of limited in-person attendance, the church’s normal three Sunday morning services might be reduced to two in coming weeks, according to Womack.

As many congregants opt to go virtual, Womack says First Presbyterian is “very well prepared with technology.” It has a “Zoom choir” in place of a live one, he said, noting that “people have really responded to it.”

Central Assembly of God, west of town on the busy State Road 60 corridor, began its Phase One reopening on Mother’s Day, welcoming adult worshipers back, according to Associate Pastor Larry Bowan. The church waited several weeks before allowing children to return, and those who “feel more comfortable worshipping from home” can still get the services online or on Facebook.

The “Hospitality Team” – greeters – are required to wear masks, but worshippers are not, Bowan says. In addition, the traditional greeting segment of the service, during which congregants say hello to one another, exchange good wishes, shake hands and sometimes hug, is still taking place.

Comments are closed.