As the church bells rung announcing the 12:10 p.m. Mass at The Proto-Cathedral of St. James the Greater, the lights were turned down and the priest left the sanctuary. A handful of people prayed silently in near-empty pews.
Late Wednesday, the Archdiocese of Seattle suspended public Mass, impacting nine Catholic parishes in Clark County including The Proto-Cathedral.
“I want all of us to continue to pray for our efforts and the efforts of so many others to care for the sick and to slow down the spread of this virus,” Archbishop of Seattle Paul Etienne said in a video message. Catholics are temporarily relieved of their obligation to attend Sunday Mass, though some Masses will be streamed online.
Sandy Campanario, pastoral assistant for administration and stewardship at The Proto-Cathedral, said the parish is still open for personal prayer, small group meetings and confession. The parish had previously taken steps such as removing holy water from the church and ceasing use of the communion chalice, a shared cup. Missals and hymnals were also removed from the pews this week, wiped down and stowed away.
The weekly Frassati supper that provides a free meal for homeless people every Thursday was scaled down. Volunteers planned to hand out bagged meals rather than invite people inside the lower hall for congregant dining.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Thursday also announced it is suspending all church gatherings. The news came after the temple in Seattle closed March 7 at the direction of Gov. Jay Inslee. In certain countries around the world, missionaries are being quarantined or sent home.
Steve McAllister, who handles media relations for the church in Southwest Washington, said now that there is a confirmed case in Clark County, local church leaders are keeping a closer eye on the situation.
“The writing’s on the wall that it’s going to get worse before it gets better,” he said.
Clark County’s congregations, which are part of the Portland Oregon Temple, have about 20,000 members.
New Heights Church, one of the largest churches in the county, canceled all weekend services in light of Clark County Public Health’s recommendation to cancel gatherings of 250 people or more. The Christian church will stream Sunday services online at its regularly scheduled times. Community groups and support groups will still meet while other groups and events are on hold until further notice.
Crossroads Community Church, another large church, also announced Thursday night that it is canceling its Sunday and Wednesday night services until further notice. The church’s online campus is hosting gatherings throughout the weekends and on Wednesday nights online at live.crossroadschurch.net and on its Facebook page, @go2Crossroads, according to the announcement.
“Through the online campus, we can still gather together, worship, pray, study the Bible, and grow in our faith,” the statement reads.
Ilyas Mohammed, president of the Islamic Society of Southwest Washington, said the Hazel Dell mosque decided last weekend to temporarily close its Sunday school as a precautionary measure for COVID-19.
“We feel it is more widespread in the community than Public Health is projecting as they themselves do not have any data due to lack of testing,” Mohammed said in an email.
On Thursday night, the society said it will not be conducting Friday prayers and would reevaluate the decision April 4 to determine if it can begin congregational Friday prayers starting April 10.
“While this is highly unfortunate, we have reviewed guidance from medical professionals as well as multiple Islamic organizations who are taking the same precautions,” the announcement states.
While other religious communities in Clark County haven’t canceled services, they are still responding cautiously to COVID-19, the novel coronavirus. Many religious communities are encouraging sick congregants to stay home and are live-streaming services.
That was the case at Monday night’s Purim celebration at Congregation Kol Ami, which was streamed to YouTube. Those arriving to the synagogue were greeted at the door with hand sanitizer. As people took turns reading the Megillah, the scroll’s handles were wiped down. During a Purim carnival, games were sanitized after every turn. Challah bread was sliced rather than torn.
Larry Holzman, board president of Kol Ami, said the coronavirus will be discussed at the next board meeting to re-evaluate any steps the congregation has to take.
“We’re trying to operate business as usual,” he said.
In its email newsletter, Kol Ami encouraged congregants to refrain from hugging and handshaking, and to instead greet each other with jazz hands or the Priestly Blessing or Vulcan salute. (Leonard Nimoy, who played Spock on “Star Trek,” came up with the Vulcan greeting based on seeing the Priestly Blessing as a child during High Holiday services.)
The Sikh temple in Vancouver’s Landover-Sharmel neighborhood hired an extra cleaning crew to keep the 21,000-square-foot building sanitary. Kamal Bains, president of Guru Ramdass Gurdwara Sahib, said they’re following general protocol by telling people to not go to the gurdwara if they’re sick. A typical weekend service at the temple — the second largest in the state — sees about 400 people.
Sikhs already remove their shoes and wash their hands (and in some cases feet) before entering the darbar sahib or main hall. Extra cleaning is happening in the community kitchen, too, which serves vegetarian meals after services.
St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Orchards made several interim changes. Hand sanitizer is available as churchgoers enter to worship and when approaching the altar for communion. Offerings plates won’t be passed around, but instead will be stationed around the sanctuary. Wine and grape juice for communion will be offered in individual cups rather than the common cup. Those preparing communion will place the bread and wine on the altar prior to church services to avoid multiple hands touching them. The church also drained its baptismal font.
The Rev. Cindy Muse has noticed some people self-selected to not attend church due to the virus.
“It is very challenging when we even discuss the possibility of limiting people coming,” she said. Being together and worshiping is essentially the primary purpose of going to church on Sundays.
Even though it’s difficult, if their efforts slow down the spread of COVID-19, they’re doing the right thing, Muse said. In a recent email newsletter, she encouraged congregants to call one another. The church is also organizing teams to call people and make sure everyone is doing OK.
“Communication seems to be key,” Muse said.
St. Andrew offers audio versions of its sermons and is looking into video recording services or setting up online group chats around devotional topics, so everyone can stay connected.
Likewise, St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Washougal offered pastoral care to congregants staying at home to avoid contagion and encouraged people to call. The Rev. Kathleen Patton, the church’s vicar, said she realized elders would become more isolated as the virus spreads. The pastoral care team met recently to determine which churchgoers it needs to check up on.
“Let us know how you are doing, and what we can do for you. Groceries, food and other supplies can be brought to your home,” Patton said in an email newsletter to congregants. “Isolation is hard on the soul, and even hard on the body.”
The small congregation, part of the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia, decided Friday to suspend services through March 22.
“Connecting, worship, and gathering can still take place electronically. We will be working on making that possible,” St. Anne’s said in an email to congregants.