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NYC faith leaders are preparing to reopen places of worship

What to know about when you can return to your congregation.

Shaye Weaver
Written by
Shaye Weaver

Going to a house of worship is a weekend ritual for many New Yorkers, and not being able to do that during this tough time has been a challenge.

While churches, synagogues and other holy places are live-streaming their sermons, homilies and practices of faith so their congregations can still worship, there's nothing like gathering together under one roof.

With New York City slowly getting closer to reopening, leaders at various places of worship are starting to talk about when they'll welcome congregants in again.

As of this week, Governor Andrew Cuomo said faith centers can hold gatherings of up to 10 people, so long as they wear masks and maintain their distance.

"I understand their desire to get back to religious ceremonies as soon as possible," he said.

On Friday, President Donald Trump called houses of faith "essential services” and urged governors to reopen them immediately.

"Today I am identifying houses of worship—churches, synagogue and mosques—as essential places that provide essential services," Trump said, according to The New York Times.

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This week, both Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn announced their phased reopening plans, which include health and safety protocols, from limiting gatherings to keeping holy water and baptismal fonts empty.

The first phase of both plans opens churches for private prayer and confession. While Dolan has not announced exactly when churches under the New York Archdiocese will allow this, DiMarzio says his Brooklyn and Queens churches will begin this step on Tuesday, May 26.

"It has been a challenging few months for Catholics in Brooklyn and Queens," DiMarzio said. "We know many people have eagerly been awaiting the day our churches would open. While we cannot celebrate mass just yet, it is so important that we can now enter for prayer. It is my hope that this will give many of our faithful great comfort during this difficult time."

The Brooklyn Diocese is requiring congregants to wear masks and asks those who feel sick in any way to skip church entirely. Only 10 people will be allowed in at a time and all must keep six feet between them. Funerals, baptisms, and weddings will also be limited to 10 people.

The Archdiocese of New York has similar rules that also include no physical contact during the Sign of Peace, assigning pews based on type of family (singles, couples, families with children), changing entrance and exit flow to decrease density, barring choirs, and not distributing the Precious Blood sacrament during communion, among many others. You can watch Dolan's announcement here.

Churches under the Archdiocese of New York has a five-phase reopening plan:

Phase I – Churches Open for Private Prayer and Confessions
Phase II - Celebration of Baptisms and Marriages (limited to 10 attendees)
Phase III - Celebration of the Rite of Distributing Holy Communion Outside of Mass
Phase IV – Celebration of Daily and Funeral Masses with Limited Attendance
Phase V – Celebration of Sunday Mass with Supervised Attendance
Resumption of Full Parish Mass Schedules and Sacramental Activities

You can read more about the rules at

The Diocesan Committee on Re-opening Churches is consulting with medical and health professionals to make sure the Brooklyn Diocese reopening is safe, according to Joseph Esposito, the former New York City Emergency Management Commissioner, who is leading the committee.

"In my nearly 50 years of service to the city, this is one of the hardest issues I have had to deal with," he said in a statement." The risks are great which is why we have to get things right the first time."

"As we begin the process of reopening our churches, we must understand that we will not be able to resume church life as we enjoyed it before," DiMarzio said. "There will be a series of changes designed to keep everyone healthy and safe during prayer and worship. I am confident that we will respond, as faithful people of God, to the challenges placed before us."

Other places of worship, from mosques to synagogues, are still forthcoming with their plans, but many of them are eyeing what it would look like to reopen.

The Unitarian Church of All Souls, for instance, had been planning to reopen its sanctuary after a $12 million renovation, but now it is having to rethink due to the shutdown.

"Our plans for reopening will develop over the next couple of months, as we learn what's possible in light of emerging state and city guidelines, and what's prudent in light of our commitment to the health and safety of our congregation," the church said in a statement. "We are eager to resume gathering in our sanctuary, because nothing can replace the redemptive feeling of joy our real presence together as a community of spiritual seekers brings."

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