The Arch Street Shrine, home to two shrines and residences for Franciscan friars, reopened to the public on May 13 for the first time since the start of the pandemic, which Conway says made it the last religious place in the region to do it. The reopened shrine has designated spaces in shrines for worshipers who wish to follow social distancing rules and wear masks, he said. Group meetings remain suspended in the establishment.
The health and safety of the 30 brothers who live at the shrine, including five in their 80s, were considered in the decision to close for 14 months, Conway said. He said he also considered a defining characteristic of the Franciscan lifestyle.
“The Franciscans aren’t particularly good at enforcing the rules,” said Conway. “We’re a bit like the grandfather who lets you do everything.
As of Saturday, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston dropped mandates of wearing masks and social distancing for vaccinated worshipers.
The archdiocese also declared that singing and choirs will be allowed again, that communion can return to normal, that collections can be made using a basket on a pole, that food can be served during parish activities and that choir staff will be allowed to participate in masses.
Remote religious participation options, which were introduced or expanded due to government restrictions on gatherings, are expected to survive the pandemic.
At Temple Israel in Boston, Chief Rabbi Elaine Zecher said the congregation wants to advance what it calls a “mixed presence” or a mixture of in-person and online participation.
“It’s a really important point,” she said. “What has happened over the past 15 months has disrupted the way we have operated and functioned, and I think the disruption is not always bad. “
Capacity limits in places of worship have been a priority for opponents of the pandemic restrictions since Last spring, when protesters began rallying outside Gov. Charlie Baker’s home in Swampscott to push him to reopen the state and a Worcester Baptist church filed a federal lawsuit challenging the rules after organizing services in defiance of the ban on gatherings of more than 10 people.
Last May, Baker authorized the reopening of places of worship at 40% capacity as part of the first phase of the state’s reopening plan.
But legal challenges continued throughout this month when New Life South Coast Church in New Bedford sued Baker, the City of New Bedford and others in federal court, alleging that the COVID-19 restrictions in place at at the time, places of worship were subject to capacity limits that had been lifted for other places of gathering such as restaurants. The church, which can accommodate more than 600 people, had been ordered to limit the number of worshipers to 90, according to Andrew Beckwith, one of its attorneys and chairman and general counsel of the Massachusetts Family Institute.
On May 17, Baker changed course by transforming the mandate on capacity limits in places of worship into an advisory.
The move, coupled with the lifting of remaining COVID-19 restrictions on Saturday, gives New Life South Coast Church the power to implement any security measures it chooses, Beckwith said.
“It is unfortunate that it took legal action to instigate this correction,” he said on Saturday. “We are happy that starting today, they can resume their worship to normal. “
The pace of reopening has varied a lot. For example, Brighton’s Yusuf Mosque invited worshipers to return for the congregation’s five daily prayers on February 20, according to its Facebook page. Friday prayers resumed there on March 25 for those faithful who had registered in advance.
At Pleasant Hill Baptist Missionary Church in Dorchester, Reverend Miniard Culpepper, the senior pastor, said it will be time before all pandemic precautions are relaxed. Since Easter, the congregation has been meeting outdoors at Trotter Park, but Culpepper said Sunday services are expected to be held indoors due to the rain forecast.
Most of the people who attend services regularly have been vaccinated and the church now has two machines that purify the air, Culpepper said.
“We continue to implement our reopening plan,” he said. “A church with vaccinated members is probably the safest church to go to. “
Laura Crimaldi can be contacted at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.