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WNY faith leaders on reopening places of worship

A parishioner in prayer during COVID-19.
Posted at 11:54 PM, May 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-22 23:56:02-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — President Donald Trump called on governors to open places of worship across the country by weekends end in a press conference Friday afternoon.

“In America we need more prayer, not less,” President Trump said.

The announcement coming a day after New York started to allow religious gatherings of 10 people or fewer.

“Some would say that’s not enough, I say it’s a start,” Pastor Darius Pridgen said. He sits on the New York Interfaith Advisory Council. The recently formed group of religious leaders is tasked with proposing ways to safely bring back congregations. President Trump’s announcement came during the council's first meeting.

“It was very enlightening to hear faiths from across the state of New York who have really unique needs that really demonstrated you can’t do this cookie cutter,” Pridgen said.

When it comes to re-opening places of worship, Pridgen says slow and steady wins the race. True Bethel Baptist Church is already making improvements after a “test run” on Thursday of what a small religious gathering looks like.

“Almost no one on the call is ready to just throw the doors open,” Pridgen said.

The President of the Islamic Society of Niagara Frontier, Shahid Mehboob, echoes Pridgen’s mentality.

“Our prime responsibility is to our congregation, the people around us. Even if we open, we have to open it safely,” Mehboob said. He adds it’s been difficult going through this during the month of Ramadan. For now, he’ll keep the doors closed as planning continues on how to safely bring back his congregation.

“But what is safe? That’s undefined in these terms. So I think it is a risk involved and hopefully all these congregations of churches, synagogues, mosques... We will be able to overcome this challenge we are all facing,” Western New York Muslims President Faizan Haq said. Across Western New York, Haq said other mosques have started to re-open, abiding by the social distancing rules, sanitizing and enforcing the use of masks for religious gatherings fewer than 10 people.

Both Mehboob and Haq stress the importance of having proper PPE, disinfecting schedules and mask enforcement.

“It is nonetheless a risk, but people have been waiting to reopen for a long time,” Haq said.

The Diocese of Buffalo said in a statement they are continue to work on a “gradual re-opening at the appropriate time.” A spokesperson added Bishop Scharfenberger was “asked by Governor Cuomo to join the special committee to advise on reopening places of worship…”

7 Eyewitness News reached out to the governor’s office for comment on the matter, but have yet to hear back as of Friday evening.