Wilton churches take differing approaches to Phase 3

WILTON — The state’s Phase 3 coronavirus guidelines for churches will affect some more than others, depending on how spacious they are and how services have been offered up to this point.

The guidelines that went into effect Oct. 8 stipulate religious gatherings indoors may be up to 50 percent capacity, capped at 200 people, up from 100 previously.

Outdoor religious gatherings may have numbers of people limited only by the capacity of the locations. In all cases, masks are required and social distancing protocols should be followed.

With a normal capacity of 600, and a schedule that offers five Masses every Sunday, Our Lady of Fatima will be able to comfortably welcome more parishioners.

Hope Church, on the other hand, is at its seating limit while still allowing for social distancing, so the plan is to offer a second service.

Wilton Presbyterian Church is remaining more conservative and will continue with virtual services, while Wilton Congregational Church expects to open its physical doors soon.

Our Lady of Fatima

Whereas Our Lady of Fatima had been allowing 100 people for Mass, the church will now allow 200. Up to this point, only half a pew had been opened, but the new guidelines will allow a full pew to be opened, enabling a family to sit together, Rev. Reggie Norman said, adding that only every other pew is open. Pews are wiped down between Masses, he said.

“We will still have to maintain 6 feet of social distancing. We had been doing nine feet,” he said.

Those planning to attend Mass are asked to register in advance to enable contact tracing, if needed. Once at church, people will pass a no-touch kiosk that can detect their temperature and if they are wearing a mask. Those with a temperature above 99.9 will not be allowed to stay. People who do not register ahead will be allowed in if there’s room, but they will also have to sign in. If there is no room in the sanctuary, they may attend Mass in the parish center where it is live-streamed.

“We’ve been very conscientious about the Eucharist,” Norman said. “We only consecrate enough hosts for each mass.” Communion is given into the hand, but if a person prefers to receive it by mouth, the priest or lay person distributing the host sanitizes their hands between each person.

Among other changes was the installation of air scrubbers in the HVAC system in the sanctuary, rectory, parish hall and little church. In addition to fending off COVID-19, it will “help fight flu and other viruses,” Norman said.

Our Lady of Fatima has been conducting weddings, funerals and baptisms one child at a time. Children received First Holy Communion in September with 25 families per ceremony. Confirmation was held in eight sessions last month. Everyone wore a mask at each event, Norman said.

Christmas will soon be here and Norman said that traditionally busy time will make him even busier as he contemplates increasing the number of Masses to seven or eight if seating capacity remains the same.

Wilton Presbyterian

The Rev. Shannon White said plans for Christmas are well underway at Wilton Presbyterian Church on New Canaan Road, but she added, “I can’t imagine there will be Christmas indoors. We are already planning an outdoor drive-by live nativity with St. Matthew’s [next door] that will be open to the public.” The animals are already lined up: an alpaca standing in for the camel, a donkey, goats and sheep.

The church conducted its fourth in-person worship service outside in the courtyard on Sunday, “which allows us to welcome people, as many as who want to come,” she said. People must wear masks and bring their own chairs. Temperatures are taken and there is no singing. Last Sunday was also the first for bringing back Communion, with wafers and juice in individual cellophane packages.

White said the sanctuary has been mapped out with tape for Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, but the maximum it can hold right now is 50.

“We’re taking it month by month,” she said, “being fully conscious of the fact things could shut down quickly.”

Since the shutdown in March, White has been offering online services. “It’s a lot of work but people need to be together,” she said.

Wilton Congregational

“We have been very conservative,” the Rev. Anne Coffman said of Wilton Congregational Church on Old Ridgefield Road.

She led a few outdoor services in September, adding, “we’re preparing to move inside, we’re not sure when, maybe by the beginning of next month.” The church is waiting for air scrubbers for the HVAC system. Small, in-person meetings, with masks, have been held for the past six weeks, she said.

“We are going through other protocols with our lay leaders,” she said. “We probably will not be able to accommodate 50 percent, but we will be able to have more than we’ve been able to accommodate so far.”

Hope Church

Hope Church on Wolfpit Road has been open for a live service at 9:30 a.m. since July 4, and attendance has been capped at 100. With capacity for 350 people, it cannot go any higher and still maintain social distancing, Pastor Don Hay said.

The 9:30 a.m. service is also live-streamed and rebroadcast at 11. Four weeks ago, the church offered a children’s program, which enables parents to attend the adult service.

“With that, we have more people coming back. As we get more people, if it’s too crowded, they get nervous. The next phase will be adding a second live service,” Hay said.

“We’ve seen a 10-percent increase week over week,” he said, with 125 people attending on Oct. 4. There is an overflow room down the hall from the sanctuary, Hay said.

“We ask people to wear masks, we check everyone in and help them get to their seats. Seating is distanced,” Hay said. “For those who want to take off their mask, they can.”

Communion is pre-packaged and the church does not pass an offering plate. Donations may be made online. For each service, the scriptures and notes are on an app that can be downloaded to one’s phone, and they are also on a screen in the sanctuary.

After the service, there is no congregating in the lobby. “We had an ice cream truck outside on a few Sundays to encourage people outside. We don’t want them to feel kicked out,” Hay said.

He said Hope Church will “definitely” do a Christmas service both in person and online, with a view to “not pack them in too tight.”

“We don’t want to do anything that makes the community feel we don’t care about them, but we also try not to be people who live in fear,” he said.

“We try to navigate being wise and be a people who put our hope in God and have the community be glad we’re here.”