There was no pandemic prep course in seminary.
That’s been Hannah White’s joke for the last couple of months. White is the lead pastor, along with her husband Bill, at Village Heights Church, which meets in the HITS theatre space at 311 W. 18th St.
Last Sunday was Village Heights’ first time having in-person services since March. The church’s in-person services are at 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. with a virtual service at 5 p.m.
“It felt good to be home and have some level of normal in our life,” White said.
The church opened with restrictions in an attempt to keep their attendees safe by wearing masks, social distancing and spreading out in the seats. They also replaced their Sunday coffee stand with a coffee truck so people could feel safer sipping coffee in the open air.
“For us it felt like if our schools were going back in person, then we could find creative ways to open safely,” White said.
A lot of the guidelines Village Heights is following matches recommendations for sanctuaries and faith-based reopenings the City of Houston recently released. Find the city’s full set of recommendations, many of which seek to limit the clustering of congregation members, at https://www.houstontx.gov/Best-Practices-Sanctuaries-Faith-Based-Organizations.pdf. Churches that already are open and soon to reopen are following many of these guidelines.
While White said they are keeping an eye on capacity, they are not making it reservation-based, which is a city recommendation along with keeping the capacity at 25 percent.
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 1819 Heights Blvd., has been meeting in person since September, but requires reservations for in-person services, with about 25 slots.
“For guidelines we look at what the CDC is saying, what our elected officials are saying, what the medical center is saying and what our bishop is saying,” said Jimmy Grace, the rector at St. Andrew’s. “So there are multiple platforms we look to when making precautions.”
St. Andrew’s offers four Sunday services, two online through Facebook Live and two in person at 7:30 a.m. and 11:15 a.m.
“Even though we have the live stream, being able to conduct in person we take reverently and deliberately,” Grace said. “We are cautious, but we recognize that church is not a building. It’s the people.”
Grace said the church has taken measures to ensure safety with masks, distancing, a clear point of entry and exit and no singing of congregational hymns.
“It’s so wonderful to have people in church,” Grace said, “and one lesson we’ve learned is how important face-to-face contact is – to see others and to be seen by others.”
Grace said they will continue to take cues from officials on when it’s safe to open further.
West End Church, 802 Shepherd Dr., will reopen for in person services Nov. 1.
“We value the city’s guidelines and precautions and plan to follow them to keep our people and our community as safe as possible,” said Patrick Kelley, pastor at West End. “We believe the community is ready to come together to make new friends and to be encouraged, even though there are restrictions and appropriate spacing.”
Kelley mentioned that while they look forward to the day the restrictions will be lifted, they are committed to being good citizens and doing everything they can to assist people impacted by the virus and to doing their part to prevent the spread.
“We believe houses of worship are a vital part of every community and necessary during difficult times,” Kelley said.