Naperville’s faith communities are taking a cautious approach to eased restrictions now that Illinois has moved to phase four of its coronavirus recovery program.
Members of the First Congregational United Church of Christ have been meeting online since March. Rev. Mark Winters said: “Since the middle of March, we have been live streaming our services from our sanctuary. We recently switched to a pre-recorded model which allows us to include more readers and musicians (recording from their home), which is closer to how we would normally worship.”
The pandemic hasn’t stopped the church from organizing food drives to support local food pantries, as well as a collection of recyclable materials which are not part of Naperville’s curbside program.
“We have been able to provide meals to church folks recovering from illness. We delivered Easter bags to our elementary-aged kids. We have shared virtual messages of prayer and love in response to the killing of George Floyd, and several of us attended protests and helped clean up the mess after the damage to a few of our fellow downtown establishments,” Winters said.
Winters said the expectation is they will continue working in the same way they have been until phase five of the Illinois recovery plan.
“All the information I’ve seen so far describes in-person, indoor worship services as a higher risk activity,” he said. “We would still not be able to sing, we still would not be able to shake hands, give hugs, or share fellowship after worship over coffee and treats. We’d have to block off every other pew and sit 6 feet apart from anyone outside of our household. We couldn’t have Sunday school or gather the children up front. Our average worship participation is more than twice the limit of 50, so we would have to turn people away, and none of us wants to be the person to lock the door.”
With almost 11,000 members, St Thomas the Apostle Catholic Parish is larger than some villages. At the start of the pandemic it began phoning its more vulnerable seniors and found it a great way to make personal connections, said Chari Rosales, director of Adult Faith Formation.
The Diocese of Joliet has produced 176 pages of protocols for phase four, but Rosales said they’ll be moving forward little by little. There are just two weekend masses, and congregants need to sign up in advance.
“We did a poll asking if people were ready to come back,” she said. “Almost 200 responded and of those 38% said they would, but a significant percentage said they wanted to wait a little bit. Under 1% said they wouldn’t return until there is a vaccine.”
Members of Naperville’s Buddhist community are planning to make some changes in phase four and like other groups are proceeding with caution.
The superintendent of Fo Guang Shan Chicago Buddhist Temple, Naperville, Venerable Youheng, said during the early stages they were able to hold two cremation services online. Now they’re meeting for major services.
“The first 45 devotees who registered will be allowed to come to the temple to attend the service, whereas the rest of the devotees will still participate simultaneously online,” Youheng said. “The in-person devotees must wear masks and gloves during the entire service, and they will be spaced out a bit. Since these services usually last an entire day and will involve lunch, the devotees will be provided with a lunch box and eat outdoors in our grass area or in our parking lot, or eat at home and come back to the temple for the afternoon session.”
Congregation Beth Shalom has been holding weekly Zoom services including bar and bat mitzvahs since March. They’ve also held services for mourners of the newly deceased as well as a variety of classes for all ages.
VP of Religious Practice, Judy Green said: “Since the pandemic began, we have focused on assisting a different organization (e.g., Chesed House, DuPage Pads) each month through efforts led by members of our community. We continue to participate in NILA (Naperville Interfaith Leaders Association) and its efforts related to racial justice and interfaith solidarity. The wider community has helped us as well. When our friends at the Islamic Center of Naperville heard we were exploring different options for conducting remote services, they immediately volunteered their assistance and shared their own experiences.”
This month they’re trying smaller services outdoors and using their sanctuary for bar and bat mitzvahs with limited attendees.
At the Islamic Center of Naperville, members are now able to meet once again after more than two months.
Board member Shafeek Abubaker said they have been following state guidelines.
“We are extremely careful about strictly implementing safety guidelines that include mandatory masks, QR Code scanning (for contact tracing), restricting vulnerable segments of the population and limiting numbers,” he said.
The ICN has also been holding various online programs including classes, religious lectures and social justice seminars.
Shalini Gupta is President of United for Peace, a non-profit whose mission is to build respect and unity across all religions.
“The Covid 19 lockdown has presented a challenge to faith as well as interfaith organizations. In-person events have been replaced with Zoom meetings,” she said.
In April the organization hosted a Zoom webinar to create an Interfaith Covid Coalition, designed to continue the work of interfaith unity during the crisis. Since then they have provided masks and food to the African American community in Chicago who have been hit hard by the pandemic.