St. Matt's reopening mass

Champaign’s St. Matthew Catholic Church held its first in-person mass of the pandemic Monday morning.

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To reopen or not reopen: That’s the question facing faith leaders across the area as the number of new COVID-19 cases continues to decline. Here’s a sampling of how local houses of worship are handling a delicate decision, courtesy Editor JEFF D’ALESSIO.


Any decisions on when and how to reopen Allerton UMC will come from on high. “It depends on the direction we get from our United Methodist bishop,” Pastor Clyde Snyder says.


Outdoor services kicked off this past Sunday at Walnut Grove Christian, and three indoor services at 50 percent capacity could happen as soon as June 28 at Arcola UMC, if the central region advances to Phase 4 of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s reopening plan by then.


On the short list for the most essential employee in the village of 1,168: Debbie Marquiss, whose job it was to make First Baptist Atwood ready to reopen for its first Sunday morning indoor service this past weekend. “Our wonderful custodian put lots of work in cleaning and disinfecting all of the facility,” Pastor Lanny Faulkner says.


“We have been out 15 weeks — way too long. People need to be uplifted, especially now,” says village president and Bement Baptist Pastor Pat Tieman, who presided over Sunday’s eagerly-anticipated in-person service.


Warm weekend weather made outdoor services — in Bondville UMC‘s parking lot and on Champaign Mt. Vernon UMC‘s lawn — enjoyable. But to Naomi Sue Roberts, pastor at both churches, “it isn’t the same. Nor can it ever replace the warmth of a handshake or hug or smile.”


The good news: Broadlands UMC is on track to hold in-person services on June 28. The not-so-good news: For the short term at least, there will be no songs sung, communion served, hands shaken, hugs given or fellowship enjoyed. “For United Methodists, that no food thing is huge,” says Kathy Murphy, who doubles as pastor at Ogden UMC.


St. John’s Chapel resumed in-person services Sunday, with congregants arriving 15 minutes early, seated far apart in designated pews and taking communion by hand.

The reopening rules that UI officials come up with will help dictate when it’s safe enough for the Chabad Center for Jewish Life and St. Andrew’s Lutheran to reopen.


“As of now, we’re praying for July,” says the Rev. Rickey Parks, pastor at Pilgrim Missionary Baptist, one of many Champaign houses of worship with physical reopenings TBD.

Among the others waiting for a better pandemic forecast before picking a date: Berean Covenant, C-U Church, Emmanuel Memorial Episcopal, Faith United Methodist, First Presbyterian, Grace Lutheran, Hessel Park Christian Reformed, Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist, Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist, New Covenant Fellowship and Sinai Temple.

Services moved from the St. Matthew Catholic Church parking lot back inside for Monday morning’s mass. Says Msgr. Stanley Deptula: “We have mass every weekday morning, which will help us get ready for masses with people inside the church this weekend,” set for 5:15 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday. Staying on the Sunday schedule of services for now: 8 a.m. in the parking lot and 9:30 online, the latter without people.

Bible Baptist will host its grand reopening at 10:15 a.m. Sunday, the same day that Three Hierarchs Greek Orthodox expects to have its bishop’s blessing to expand from a service of 10 to 25 percent capacity. “We are estimating 40 total worshippers, including myself,” the Rev. Michael Condos says.

Meadowbrook‘s reopening plan, which kicked in this past weekend and saw all volunteers getting their temperatures taken beforehand, includes a new, kid-focused 10 a.m. service, where about 15 families can each sit together while listening to Children’s Pastor Cooper Frank.

It will likely be August before Copper Creek Church‘s congregation gets back together. But the wait will be worth it — their next service will be held inside a new, state-of-the-art, $5 million structure being built in southwest Champaign.


First Baptist of Danville‘s scheduled Sunday soft opening will include three services — one in Spanish, two in English (for those 47 and over and 46 and under).

Holy Family Catholic Church officially reopened at 25 percent capacity (that’s 100 people), with a unique service Saturday. It’s “what in the Catholic Church we formerly termed a ‘low mass,’” Pastor Steven Loftus says. “That is, little singing and accompaniment. Choirs are pretty much not allowed.”

Still in wait-and-see mode: St. James UMC, which come Phase 4 will decide if a service with mandatory masks and social distancing is worthwhile. “Our congregation is predominantly 65 and older and therefore in the highest risk category,” Pastor Randy Robinson says.


The three-pronged plan at Trinity Community Fellowship calls for getting the congregation back together for a 9 a.m. June 21 service in the church parking lot, which will continue to be streamed on Facebook and YouTube. “We will encourage those who are possible compromised and more easily affected by the virus to drive in and we will be providing them parking to view the service with FM radio transmission of the service into their cars,” Pastor Dave Ashby says.


Just in case capacity restrictions mean that not every congregant can be in the pews for River Valley Church of Christ‘s first service back this Sunday, a video feed will stream the service to the fellowship hall.


“We don’t have a set date yet but may if the state moves to Phase 4 on June 26th,” the Rev. Darla Holden says of the two churches where she’s pastor — Fithian UMC and Danville Farmers Chapel.


Phase 4 can’t arrive soon enough for Pastor Matt Filicsky, whose three United Methodist churches — Fairmount, Fairhaven and Georgetown — plan to reopen then. “It will be nice to see everyone face to face — or at least mask to mask,” he says.


With relatively few confirmed COVID-19 cases in Gibson City, “we felt it safe enough to return early,” says First Baptist Pastor Dennis Norton, who has presided over services in a half-full church for three weeks.

Across town, New Beginnings Christian Fellowship will shift from parking lot to indoors this weekend.


Among the coronavirus-inspired changes this Sunday at St. Paul Lutheran: membersshould bring their own Bibles, call the church in advance to let it be known if they’ll attend the 9 or 11 a.m. service (no one will be turned away regardless) anduse hand sanitizer on the way in and out.


One week after Community Evangelical Free Church reopened with three services of fewer than 50 people, it’s Mahomet Christian’s and Church of the Cross‘ turn. Mahomet Christian will hold two services in its spacious sanctuary, which can accommodate 100 congregants and still be under 25 percent capacity.


On Sunday’s reopening day at Milford UMC, there will be “strict seating and sanitation and no fellowship,” Pastor Gail Meyers says.


For now, there are two ways to catch a service at Monticello UMC — live on the radio (WCZQ 105.5-FM) or online (Facebook Live). Across town, Crossroads Church plans to reopen Sunday with limited seating and safety guidelines in place.


One whole side of Muncie Baptist‘s worship auditorium will be roped off for Sunday’s first service back (9-9:45 a.m. Sunday). Then, at 10, the other side will be roped off for service No. 2.


Save the date July 5, Ogden Church of the Nazarene members. That’s when in-person services are set to resume, kicking off a week that will also include the return of Wednesday night Bible Study.


Pesotum UMC remains in a holding pattern while waiting for guidance from the governor and the Iroquois River District.


After hosting drive-thrus at the grade school the past three weeks, a decision on when Potomac Nazarene services will move back indoors could come as soon as today.


If we’re in Phase 4 by June 28, both churches pastored by Molly Spence-Hawk will reopen — Cissna Park UMC for a 9 a.m. service, Rankin UMC at 10:30.


“We are a denomination that celebrates communion every Sunday by passing the bread and cup to the worshipers in the pews. At this time, we will have one person taking communion to the worshiper in a tray with a cracker and grape juice in dispensable cups,” says Bethany Park Christian Pastor Maxine Vallejo-Rixman, whose church held its first in-person service of the pandemic over the weekend.

Elsewhere in the village, Maranatha Baptist opened its doors for the first time, for two services, while Rantoul Church of the Nazarene members held out hope that they’ll be back together on July 5.


“There are not many advantages to having small churches but there are some,” Ridge Farm and Indianola UMC Pastor David Almy has come to discover. “We started having church as of last week with distancing; some had to change their usual seat for a new one and wear masks. The 10-person rule was not a problem; both services were under 10. The other advantage is that we know and care about each other.”


Just in from the bishop in Springfield: Up to 100 congregants can gather on June 28 at the two churches where Chris Sweet is the pastor — Rossville UMC (9 a.m.) and Bismarck UMC (10:45 a.m.).


Like bars, restaurants and gyms, St. Joseph UMC won’t move services indoors until we turn the page to Phase 4 of Restore Illinois.


All functions of 10 people or less (Bible study, drive-thru communion, council meetings) are a go but no date has been set for in-person services at Pastor Seth Emerson’s two churches — Seymour and White Heath UMC.


“We have all become a little more tech-savvy about finding other ways to stay connected, but nothing can replace the real thing,” Pastor Joel Phelps says ahead of this weekend’s reopening (at 25 percent capacity) of Thomasboro’s St. Elizabeth of Hungary and Rantoul’s St. Malachy Catholic churches.


It won’t be until July 1 or so that services are held inside First Baptist of Tolono. And that’s quite all right to Pastor Mike Frazier, who’s taken a liking to his church’s outdoor services since kicking them off on May 24. “People pull up in golf carts, sit in lawn chairs or lay blankets on the ground. Also, we have an FM transmitter for those who want to listen in their car,” he says. “Personally, I love the outdoor worship services.”


At Philo Road Church of Christ, services have been whittled down to 40 minutes — for both the congregants watching online and those who attended in-person this past Sunday. And Pastor Richard Miller plans to keep it that way, even post-pandemic, after seeing how successful remote worship has been: “We have discovered a number of people who have taken advantage of this who are not able to attend: elderly, home-bound, past members in different states, members who had quit attending for different reasons, others who love us and miss us. This has been a blessing to us.”

After shutting down for a few weeks, St. Nicholas Orthodox has gone from allowing a maximum of five members on-site during Zoom-carried services to 10. “Now, we are at a maximum of 25 total persons,” says the Rev. James Ellison.

St. Patrick Catholic Church reopened it parish this past weekend for one mass (5 p.m. Saturday) and one communion service (8 a.m. Sunday in the parking lot).

First Mennonite of Champaign-Urbana and First Presbyterian are both sticking with remote services only for the time being. “Out of concern for the larger community and for our most vulnerable members, we continue to connect for worship, fellowship and service via remote meetings,” First Mennonite Pastor Deb Sutter says. “We plan to re-evaluate in August unless things change drastically before then.”


Holding up First Christian‘s reopening: back-ordered pieces for a bathroom remodeling project, which must be completed before the carpets can be steam-cleaned and the church fully sanitized. The hope is to reopen in July with two services of 50 people each.


A sign of the times: Every parishioner who attended St. Mary Catholic Church‘s reopening service over the weekend received a bottle of hand sanitizer when they entered church and were asked to spray their area as they exited.

Reach Jeff D’Alessio via email at