Albion church holds service in building, with limit now at 25% capacity

Photos by Tom Rivers: This sign on the door leading to the sanctuary urges people to not give hugs or hand shakes for now.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 9 June 2020 at 9:17 am

‘We should just get together. It doesn’t have to be perfect.’

Albert Alexander delivers the sermon on Sunday, the first time North Point held in-person services since mid-March.

ALBION – North Point Chapel in Albion was open for services for the first time in nearly three months on Sunday.

It was a smaller group than usual. About 20 people attended the service in person. The church usually draws about 50 for Sundays – before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Church buildings have been closed since mid-March. Gov. Cuomo and the state allowed up to 10 people inside buildings on May 21, as well as drive-in and parking lot services.

On Saturday, the governor announced churches, mosques and temples could have services with crowds up to 25 percent of the building’s capacity – as long as several safety precautions were in place.

North Point elders Albert Alexander and Jim Baker sent out a text message to church members, telling them the building on Platt Street would be open on Sunday.

Church leaders had a safety plan ready for holding services during a pandemic. They have sanitizer stations, signs telling people there won’t be any handshakes or hugs, and people who aren’t in the same households are spaced around the sanctuary. People also need to wear masks, except when they are sitting as long as there is six feet of space from the next person. Alexander said the governor’s announcement on Saturday was appreciated, but didn’t leave church leaders much time to be ready on Sunday.

“We should just get together,” Alexander said from the pulpit on Sunday. “It doesn’t have to be perfect.”

Pastor Mike Outten speaks to the church during Sunday’s service. People were spread out for the service.

Mike Outten, the church pastor since North Point started five years ago, has been giving weekly sermons through Facebook live from his home study. His children have provided the music for those services.

Outten said the church worked on a reopening plan to be ready for when the governor started to ease restrictions on the gathering size.

The church seats 275 people. At 25 percent capacity, about 70 people could attend an in-person service.

Jennifer Mateo, the children’s ministry leader for North Point, attended the service on Sunday with her daughter Eva, a kindergartener. They were happy to see people, face to face, again.

Photo courtesy of Marsha Rivers: North Point put out a welcome flag on Sunday for people to attend church inside the building.

She said the church leaders have worked hard to keep the congregation connected during the pandemic, with the Sunday services broadcast through Facebook live and a weekly Bible study on Wednesdays through Zoom.

Alexander said this era of social distancing doesn’t mean people have to stay apart.

“We shouldn’t distance ourselves totally,” he said.

Some of the state guidelines for religious organizations for services include:

  • A distance of at least 6 feet must be maintained amongst all individuals at all times, unless safety or the core activity requires a shorter distance (e.g. pallbearing) or the individuals are members of the same household. However, any singing activity must provide for a distance between individuals of 12 feet, subject to additional protective measures.
  • Prohibit the use of small spaces (e.g. elevators, vehicles) by more than one individual at time, unless all individuals are wearing face coverings. If occupied by more than one person, keep occupancy under 50% of maximum capacity.
  • Prohibit holding or shaking hands of members in different households during services or prayers.
  • Provide workers with an acceptable face covering at no cost to the worker and have an adequate supply of coverings in case of replacement.
  • Faith leaders, officiants, volunteers, and/or attendees must be prepared to don a face covering if another person unexpectedly comes within 6 feet.
  • Limit the sharing of objects (e.g. religious texts, collection plates) as well as the touching of shared surfaces (e.g. pews, instruments, doors, railings); or, require individuals to wear gloves when in contact with shared objects or frequently touched surfaces; or, require individuals to sanitize or wash their hands before and after contact.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting of facilities, shared surfaces, and other areas, as well as shared objects, must be performed at least after each service, using Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) products identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as effective against Covid-19.
  • Provide and maintain hand hygiene stations on site, including handwashing with soap, water, and paper towels, as well as an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing 60% or more alcohol for areas where handwashing is not feasible. Hand sanitizer must be placed throughout the location for use by all attending or working.
  • Post signage throughout the facility to remind individuals to adhere to proper hygiene, social distancing rules, appropriate use of PPE, and cleaning and disinfecting protocols. Conspicuously post completed safety plans on site.
  • Implement mandatory health screening assessment (e.g. questionnaire, temperature check) for employees, faith leaders, and volunteers (but not attendees), asking about (1) Covid-19 symptoms in past 14 days, (2) positive Covid-19 test in past 14 days, and/or (3) close contact with confirmed or suspected Covid-19 case in past 14 days. Responses must be reviewed daily and documented.
  • If an employee or faith leader tests positive for Covid- 19, immediately notify state and local health departments and cooperate with contact tracing efforts, including notification of potential contacts who had close contact with the worker, while maintaining confidentiality as required by state and federal law and regulations.

For more on the guidelines from the state for religious organizations, click here.

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