Rev. William McNeal and his parish at Milton's Bethany United Methodist Church have had a rough few months. They are anxious to get together and worship, which is what they will do on Sunday for the first time since mid-March.
Because McNeal oversees a smaller congregation — he said average attendance is about 30 each week — he said he will tend to his flock at 11 a.m. Sunday, the first time since March 15 they have worship together.
"The size of our congregation and the church is large enough to allow us to do this," McNeal said Wednesday afternoon. "Couples can sit together, but we should be able to maintain the social distancing required."
Part of Gov. Tom Wolf's yellow phase is restricting groups of larger than 25 from gathering. McNeal said if more than 25 show up, he will hold a second service afterward.
McNeal said worshippers will be required to wear masks, and hand sanitizer and gloves will be available. Communion will be offered in pre-packaged, individual, sealed cups.
"We've contacted all the members and some said they can't come because of health issues, but most thanked us for opening," he said. "Some have said it's too soon and they don't want to be in a crowd. We tell them, that's fine."
The service is being held once again at the West Milton UMC — 310 High St., West Milton — because of the November fire that heavily damaged Bethany's main church in downtown Milton. McNeal said West Milton will also host in-person services this weekend.
"It has been a unique time for us, but we've also been very connected, even though we haven’t been able to worship," he said. "We've had a lot of phone calls and letters. I hate to use the term 'new normal,' there is nothing normal about this. The bonds formed over the years have been stretched, not been broken."
No decision has been made within the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg, which covers 15 counties and 89 parishes, about the resumption of Masses.
Bishop Ronald Gainer suspended all in-person Masses on March 16.
“We continue to closely monitor the COVID-19 pandemic and to weigh the recommendations from our state government," said Rachel Bryson, spokeswoman for the diocese. "Like many, we are eager to reopen the doors to our parishes, but will only do so in a way that continues to protect the health of our clergy, staff, parishioners and their families. As of today, no timeline has been established regarding possible reopenings; however, once a timeline is established, this information will be widely communicated.”
Also on Sunday, The Sunbury Christian Church along Route 11 will host its first drive-in service.
"To stay within government socializing regulations, we ask that everyone stay in their cars with their windows up and listen to the service audio over their car radios on the station that will be provided that morning," the church wrote on its website. "People attending our service can stay safely separated — while we are able to worship together as a community and church family."
Church officials said the service will include live worship music and message, Mother’s Day and children’s activities that will be handed out after vehicles are safely parked. "The drive-in service uses a local FM station (a shortwave broadcast) that can only be heard at our location."