Places of worship reopening around Pagosa Springs

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By John Finefrock
Staff Writer

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, places of worship around Pagosa Springs have reopened for services.

The Rev. Leighton Mekeal, of Community United Methodist Church, told The SUN Monday that he wears a mask during services except when he preaches.

“Me and the mic that I use don’t get along with the mask, so I take the mask off to preach, but I’m at least 20 feet back from the congregation,” he said.

Mekeal noted that church-goers are required to wear masks, people from separate households must socially distance 6 feet apart and that for seating they’re utilizing “every other pew.”

He explained that people are preregistering if they’re going to attend a service through an online “sign-up genie.”

“We also have to disinfect in between services, so we actually have a commercial fogger that disinfects the whole sanctuary and the bathrooms and the hallways and the entryway,” Mekeal said.

He added the maximum number of people they can have in their facility for a service is 50 and there is no choir.

“I only thought we were workin’ hard when we shut down because we had to shift to the whole tech thing and video thing and Zoom thing,” he said. “Now we still get to do all of that plus get everything ready for Sunday. With the protocols, you get to find out how flexible you actually can be.”

Augusta Happ, religious education director and the parish secretary for Pope John Paul II Catholic Church told The SUN that members of the congregation are, like the Community United Methodist Church, reserving their spots for services by signing up online.

She noted the church is still reserving some spots for visitors to attend services.

Pope John Paul II is doing outside services on Sunday at 8:30 a.m. and guests are required to bring a mask and a chair.

She explained that with outside services, there is no limit on the number of people that can attend if everyone follows social distancing guidelines.

When they have inside Mass, only 50 people maximum are allowed to attend.

“In terms of religious education, we’re going to be doing a social distancing vacation Bible school July 20 to 24th with limited enrollment,” she said.

Meg Inghram, office assistant at Restoration Fellowship Church, explained that they ask people to wear masks when they’re in common areas, but can take it off once they’re at their seat.

“People have been really excited to come back and worship,” she said, adding, “For the most part, it seems like people are doing a good job about just kind of coming in, staying at their seats, stuff like that. It’s been a positive.”

For the service Sunday at 10 a.m., Inghram said, “We have restricted our sanctuary so we have about half as many rows and they’re separated in wider sections.”

Inghram noted the sense of community places of worship offer to some members of the community.

“Some people in our church — It’s been hard because they don’t have a lot of community and a lot of them are retired, so they haven’t really seen people. And if they live alone, it’s been extra hard,” she said.

Inghram explained that state health orders that govern the maximum number of people inside places of worship are calculated by square footage.

“So, our square footage in our big building is large enough that we can have 100 people in at a time,” she said.

Paulette Heber, a local Baha’i, told The SUN that there has been no talk of coming together for services in person and they’re conducting them all online.

“We’ve been doing — they’re called devotionals and we do them online with Zoom,” she said, adding, “We’ll include videos of music, musicians and we have sacred writings from the different world religions up on the screen … And if people want to share anything, poems or anything like that, they can.”

Lisa Burnson, secretary for the New Thought Center for Inspirational Healing, explained that their facility is set up for social distancing and that wearing masks is at the discretion of those who attend.

She reported that to complement the in-person services, the organization is also livestreaming the events on the group’s YouTube channel, which include live music.

Heidi Tanner, administrator at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church, reported that they are not having Eucharist or communion during their services in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19.

She explained members of the congregation are signing up online to reserve spots for the services, but the church is leaving 10 spots open for visitors who wish to attend.

Tanner noted a mask is required for those who attend services and that the church has “infrared thermometers, and we are taking temperatures when folks are coming in.”

The Pagosa Springs Church of Christ announced in an ad in The SUN last week that it is returning to in-person worship.

It requests everyone attending wear a mask until communion is served, and family groups are asked to distance themselves from one another in the auditorium.

“Continue to pray for those suffering, healing, health, our leaders and caregivers, and that a vaccine is found,” the ad reads.