By Melanie Petrucci, Senior Community Reporter
Shrewsbury – Christians around the globe are a month into the Lenten season, the second that has occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic. Locally, this is prompting some churches to make new accommodations while still others maintain their status quo set last spring.
COVID disrupts annual Christian traditions
Lent is a period of 40 days where reflection, fasting and penance is paid in preparation for the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday, which is April 4.
While last year’s Holy Week services were disrupted because churches were closed, many pivoted to a live stream format and only began in-person services on May 18, 2020 when the Commonwealth announced its re-opening.
In Shrewsbury, churches adapted as the seasons changed. COVID-19 cases increased and the Christmas holiday came and went. Protocols were in accord with guidance set forth by the state with limited in-person worship, face coverings and social distancing. By now, the restrictions have become routine.
As of March 1, the state guidance for indoor services in places of worship had increased to 50 percent of building’s maximum permitted occupancies.
Individual churches take different approaches to Easter
The state’s capacity increase won’t impact Trinity Episcopal Church, 440 Main St. Not wishing to take any chances, the church has chosen to remain closed and not provide in-person events. However, they do livestream their services according to the Rev. Ann Scannell, priest in charge.
“We have a directive from the Bishop of our diocese of Western Mass. that it’s not safe to be in the buildings at this time and we need to look out for our neighbors,” she told the Community. Advocate, recently.
St. Mary’s Catholic Church, 640 Main St. and St. Anne’s Catholic Church,130 Boston Turnpike are holding services and both will have their services streamed on-line. However, many people are not comfortable being in the buildings just yet.
Rev. John Foley, pastor of St. Anne’s shared that they don’t even reach their limited capacity on a regular Sunday so there will be plenty of room. No reservations are necessary.
Congregants do not need to register to attend services at Grace Baptist Church, 10 Stanley Rd, either.
Pastor Conway Campbell remarked that the only thing different his church would be doing, this spring, is eliminating their Good Friday worship. They will still hold their Maundy Thursday and Easter Sunday services.
Chapel on the Hill, 145 Memorial Dr requires reservations, according to Church Administrator Myrna Benson.
First Congregational Church is holding both indoor and outdoor services when possible. It requires masks at all times.
“Our church is fully active during the pandemic,” Rev. Dr. James M. Matarazzo, Jr. told the Community Advocate, adding, “…We are the only Protestant church in the region that has maintained all-season outdoor services for those who do not feel ready to be inside the church building due to COVID-19.”
On Easter there will be an outdoor sunrise service in Mountain View Cemetery. There will then be a second service on the Town Common at 11 a.m.
“The real problem is that people are afraid to come,” remarked Rev. Fr. Nicholas K. Apostola of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, 34 Gold St. The Orthodox Easter will be celebrated May 2.
His real concern is church attendance in general. He said that, even before the pandemic, attendance was down in many faiths. This year of disruption has only made things worse.
Apostola wondered if people would come back to church after getting in the habit of not going.
“These things are lasting,” he said. “…I don’t know.