Churches in Columbia County mull reopening
With the lifting of Oregon's mask mandate on June 30, businesses are opening up and churches in Columbia County are welcoming back congregants.
At First Lutheran Church in St. Helens, Pastor James Dew is looking forward to seeing masks come off in the pews, but for now, out of an abundance of caution, masks at his Sunday church gatherings have been required.
Dew talked about the first green light given to the church.
"When the CDC announced that we could go without masks, that gave us the first green light to at least step into what we're calling 'phase 1' at First Lutheran," Dew said.
Dew said his church council approved resuming Sunday services with in-person guidelines, such as mask-wearing.
In-person worship has been allowed for several Sundays in a row, but for the time being, church members still need to wear masks and be seated in alternate pews.
"A couple of weeks ago, when the governor's office gave us that next green light, we started looking at easing even more into what you would call the new normal," Dew said.
Dew notes that the church council is scheduled to meet Sunday, July 11, to determine if the church can make mask-wearing optional, particularly for congregants who are fully vaccinated.
Although churches in Columbia County may vary in their mask requirements, the Spotlight was able to reach out to a small sampling of churches in the area.
At Grace Lutheran Church in Scappoose, no masks are required, while at St. Frederic Catholic Church in St. Helens, no masks are required unless you are unvaccinated. At Bethany Lutheran Church in Warren, if you haven't been vaccinated, you are encouraged to wear a mask.
Dew is happy that with the easing of mask requirements, and the fact more people are getting vaccinated, First Lutheran Church can hold gatherings in between Sundays.
Dew said, "Now that we have been given permission to re-open, we have any number of our community groups that have used our building for 12-step meetings, for example, so we're no longer closed to the neighborhood around us."
Dew continued, "Our ministries are able to start stretching their wings again."
Dew hopes community meals can resume in September. Dew's church traditionally offers the free meals weekly.
"It not only provides a good home-cooked meal for folks who otherwise would go without, but it also provides table fellowship," Dew said. "It provides food for the heart and spirit for folks who simply need to have some companionship to combat the epidemic of loneliness that seems to strike a good segment of our population, as well."
During the thick of the pandemic, providing pastoral services hasn't been easy for churches like First Lutheran.
"It presented quite a challenge for us," Dew noted. "For close to a year and a half, I was unable to make in-person pastoral visits. I was unable to get access to hospitals to make hospital visits. All this opens that up for me as well — it feels good to be able to do one-on-one pastoral care all over again."
Once more of a "new normal" takes shape at First Lutheran Church, Dew hopes to start hearing songs resonate throughout the church.
"We're still not going to do the congregational singing quite yet," Dew said. "I think we want to be more cautious than anything else. I would imagine that by the time we get to fall, we will be entirely open."
Dew expresses confidence moving forward as masks are removed and more vaccinations are being provided.
"This is cause for real celebration," Dew said.
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