(Note: While this pertains only to religious sites in Wisconsin, it may provide a template for how others may choose to re-open)
After the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down the “Safer at Home” policy on May 14, and ordered that the state must “reopen” amid the COVID-19 pandemic without a comprehensive safety plan, every industry and community has struggled under the chaos since to discern how that ruling would be applied – especially within the faith community.
The Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee released a roadmap of policies from its diverse collection of members on May 19, addressing how different faith organizations would hold in-person worship services and protect the community from the coronavirus.
“As faith communities either prepare to cautiously open up faith sanctuaries for in-person gatherings or remain closed, we wanted to present examples of what some interfaith partners are doing to strategically and safely resume in-person gathering,” said Pardeep S. Kaleka, Executive Director of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee. “The plans by our interfaith partners continue to invite input from the CDC, WHO, Medical Providers, Governmental Agencies, Interfaith religious organizations, community coalitions, and the congregations themselves – the greatest importance for our leadership remains to preserve life and human dignity.”
Milwaukee Jewish Federation
The MJF, working in collaboration with its local, state, and national partners will be convening a working group that will coordinate the safe “reopening of facilities, including synagogues, community centers, schools, senior centers, camps, and workplaces.” The resumptions of operations plan. Miryam Rosenzweig, President and CEO of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation stated that “determining how to resume or more fully open our operations can be overwhelming. The Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s internal task force, in planning our own reopening and strategizing how to assist the broader community, has had one guiding principle: the sanctity of life, Pikuach Nefesh. The safety of every human being is paramount and drives every decision.”
American Baptist Churches of Wisconsin
Regional Executive Minister, Rev. Dr. Marie Onwubuariri explained that each church is autonomous in their decision to reopen and conduct services. Some of the considerations of church activities regarding close proximity will need to be altered such as, ordinations, the laying on of hands, communion, post-service meals, baptisms, and choirs. Within the communion ritual there is a flexibility to the items shared for this purpose. Crackers, juice, water, or items of everyday sustenance can be used. There will also be and adjustment to the “sign of peace” within the services once churches open up again. Rev. Dr. Marie Onwubuariri recommended that churches practice extreme caution, follow CDC guidelines and pay attention to local orders.
The Archdiocese highest priority is to keep the faithful community safe during these times and while information is changing rapidly, the leadership provided directives to begin by May 31, 2020. Some key points are that communion will not be distributed by the cup, it will only be received in the hand. Also, communion will only be distributed by the priests, or vested permanent or transitional deacons. Holy water fonts should be emptied, and there will be no physical contact during the sign of peace. Social distancing of those not living in the same house will also be followed. Catholic Comeback Plan.
United Church of Christ
The UCC expressed its gratitude to its congregation for honoring the “Safer at home” order as it helped to “reduce illness, suffering, and loss of life” over the past two months. Now that the order has been lifted by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, it has put a lot of pressure on individual pastors and leadership to open. However, despite the political challenges, UCC leadership will trust guidelines to maintain communal health. UCC will be working with Rev. Kerri Parker, Wisconsin Council of Churches, as they continue to monitor and assess health guidelines set out by public health officials to create a plan consistent with the Badger Bounce Back Plan. Rev. Jane Anderson states that “our main priority is the health of our communities, so we will trust science and data.” The plan developed by the Wisconsin Council of Churches was informed by the Badger Bounce Back plan to open up churches in a phased approach. This plan allows for a gradual, measured, and cautious approach which takes into account public health guidelines and data driven decision making. Wisconsin Council of Churches (WCC) plan.
Hindu Temple of Wisconsin
Prayer services at the Hindu Temple of Wisconsin are primarily autonomous. Devotees can visit to pray during regular hours of operation or at times when longer events are scheduled. Shoes are removed before entering the sanctum sanctorum. Priests are available continuously through the day for prayer services. Devotees bring flowers for the priests to lay on statues for them. The priest pours fragrant blessed water into their hands, used as a vessel to drink from, and nuts are shared after being blessed. For the reopening of the temple, Sarvesh Geddam explained the temple hours would be restricted. The blessed water and nuts would be prepackaged, and Devotees would be asked to wear masks and maintain social distancing.
Islamic Society of Milwaukee and Brookfield
The Islamic Society will implement a phased approach to returning to in-person attendance at the Masjid in mid-June, 2020 if conditions permit. This plan is in accordance to the guidelines recommended by the CDC. Imam Noman Hussain stated that “it is of the utmost importance that the community’s safety be the highest priority. This includes the Muslim community and the broader community.” The ISM will be implementing the use of facemasks, social distancing, disinfecting, and sanitizing to mitigate the threat of spread. During the 1st Phase, there will be no Friday prayer, however there will be daily prayers in respect to allotted capacity, with adults over 65 strongly discouraged because of risk to elderly. Capacity requirements will be in place for the entire premises and social distancing will be the priority.
FULL ARTICLE FROM MILWAUKEE INDEPENDENT