BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW-TV) — The rising surge in COVID-19 cases in Erie County has resulted in Governor Andrew Cuomo declaring many parts of the county as "orange zones" with new restrictions.
Among those new rules are limits for houses of worship that will be restricted to 33% capacity or 25 people maximum.
"We don't know what is going to happen. We are currently preparing three Christmas Eve services and two virtual services," said Pastor Ruth Snyder at the Church of the Nativity United Church of Christ in Tonawanda.
Pastor Synder told reporter Ed Reilly that the church's council decided if there was an "orange" or "red" zone designation, it would cancel in-person services and return to virtual worship.
"We regret it but it is better safe than sorry," added the pastor.
It is disappointing because the church had taken extra time to make sure it was safe, by adding sanitizers and blocking off pews, before it resumed in-person worship at the end of September 2020.
"It is sacred space, and it helps them deal with everything that they are dealing with when they can be here," explained Snyder.
The Buffalo Jewish Federation told 7 Eyewitness News that local synagogues have been very cautious since the beginning of the pandemic.
"They are very limited in the number of people they will allow into the building at any one time; well beneath the threshold that the State has collected," said Andrew Shaevel, chairperson of the Buffalo Jewish Council of Synagogue Presidents.
Larger synagogues, like Temple Beth Zion in downtown Buffalo, have enhanced their online worship offerings which will continue to be important going forward.
"We have actually seen people who traditionally only show up for holidays become more engaged with our online engagements. So, there have been some positive lessons," added Shaevel.
Many synagogues have tried to take creative approaches to make online worship sessions more appealing and available through streaming.
"We have all learned from Netflix. So, if someone wants to 'binge-watch' Judaism, we are okay with it," joked Shaevel.
ROMAN CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF BUFFALO
Spokesperson, Greg Tucker, from the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo sent the following statement:
"We'll be monitoring the directives of the Governor, as well as of public health officials, and will follow those directives. You'll remember that the Diocese implemented a rigorous approach for parishes to follow last spring and are prepared to do so again, depending on the guidance. The Diocese is committed to doing its part to reduce the risk of infection among the population in general, and among parishioners in particular (many of whom are in the most vulnerable category)."
CONCERNS FOR OTHER DENOMINATIONS WITH SMALLER CONGREGATIONS:
"This is not a case of where one size fits all," said Rev. G Stanford Bratton, executive director for the Network of Religious Communities.
The network works in conjunction with dozens of local denominations and congregations including Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, and others.
While churches with larger congregations have extra staff that are familiar with doing virtual worship through Facebook, Zoom, or through other internet platforms, many smaller churches are not. Those churches are now struggling to see how they will move forward.
"Many are lost," added Bratton.
Rev. Bratton said the smaller churches are trying to balance the safety of their members while providing spiritual support.
"Houses of worship are places where person-to-person contact and physical presence is essential to their life"