Local churches and COVID-19 precautions

Lexi Schnaser– Staff Writer

Churches are an important part of life in Sioux Center and the Dordt community. While at Dordt, students are required to wear masks indoors and strongly encouraged to social distance, the story is different for most churches in town.

First Reformed Church and United Reformed Church are two of the many churches in Sioux Center that welcome Dordt students into their congregation. They are both taking steps to accommodate CDC recommendations concerning masking and social distancing.

FRC started meeting in person again on August 2nd. At that time, most churches in the area had long since started meeting again.

“We’ve blocked off every other pew and we feel that way will ensure we are below fifty percent capacity in our sanctuary and that it will help a little bit in keeping people spread out,” said Dr. Travis Else, the executive pastor of preaching and care at FRC.

“We just want people to be comfortable at church and not afraid of whether or not they’re catching a COVID virus.”

In recent weeks FRC has strongly encouraged members to wear masks when in the building and have suspended their coffee service. They chose to not require masks because they were unsure how they would actually police the mandate.

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“The question we continue to ask is: ‘what’s reasonable?’” said Else.

“I think that it’s okay that churches are making [masks] an option because they are social distancing,” said Sarah Holmberg, a Dordt junior who attends FRC. “It wouldn’t make sense for churches here to mandate it, because it would turn a lot of members off from going to church.”

Johanna Christensen, another junior attending FRC, said, “I think I feel pretty safe [at church] as long as I am sitting a pew away from everyone and leave right away.”

United Reformed Church is also instrumenting safety measures, and those decisions have been constantly changing, according to Harlan Harmelink, an elder at the URC and Director of Financial Aid at Dordt. “We were continually evaluating as we went through” Harmelink said, “from initially having half the congregation in the morning and half at night, to setting up more seats to allow everyone to meet, to spacing rows out six feet apart.”

In light of the rising cases in Sioux County, URC decided to temporarily suspend their children’s Sunday school and will re-evaluate if they feel comfortable starting up again. Until recently, ushers have been dismissing rows to exit the building immediately after the service to have fellowship outside.
“Everybody’s situation is a little bit different in terms of the risk they dare to take or their aversion to that risk.” Harmelink said. “That’s not at all casting judgement on one or the other, but being respectful that everyone’s circumstances are a little bit different,”

Harmelink said most of the members are appreciative of the slow transition back to normal services, while still being respectful of members’ comfort level.

Jake Thorsteinson, a junior at Dordt and student member of URC, said he found it encouraging that churches have measures in place at all. Thorsteinson is from Alberta, Canada, where a mask bylaw requires his home church to mandate masks inside the building and implement proper social distancing.

“In general, whether or not the measures they have put in place are working, the fact they are making an effort is really meaningful especially because there aren’t any laws,” Thorsteinson said. “They’re self-regulating and recognizing it is important.”

Dordt students and Sioux Center residents have different perspectives and experiences with COVID-19. While some churchgoers are comfortable going to church regardless, some are still hesitant to jump back into normalcy with rising numbers in Sioux County over the last few weeks. Both First Reformed Church and United Reformed Church are still livestreaming their services each week, so members who feel uncomfortable attending in person can still worship together.

One of the best ways the church body can love its neighbors well during this time is to be respectful of everyone’s different perspectives, Harmelink says. It is important for churchgoers to feel safe and comfortable while at church. In the end, “having the rows six feet apart does not impact how we worship.”

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