With the news of all COVID-19 restrictions being lifted by the state on May 29, many businesses and organizations are deciding how they are going to move forward after adapting to changing public health guidelines and operating a certain way for more than a year.
The Gazette spoke with Ashlee Wiest-Laird, a pastor at the First Baptist Church in JP, to learn about the church’s plan, as it has been offering virtual mass only since last year.
Wiest-Laird said that the plan right now is to gather on the side lawn of the church, “weather-permitting,” for in-person mass beginning on June 6. She said that the church will continue to offer streamed mass alongside the in-person service, as well as when it rains, to be able to accommodate everyone who wants to participate.
She said that the hope is to return to indoor service beginning in September. The reason for not heading indoors sooner is that the Shattuck Child Care Center operates out of the church space during the week, and “they have a very strict protocol,” so she said that the church does not want to jump right back into that space and have to worry about properly cleaning it or moving around the items for the preschool.
“We’re going to take it slow and we’ll still ask people to mask” during the outdoor service, Wiest-Laird said. She said that while the service will not necessarily prohibit people from shaking hands, it will not be encouraged, either.
“We’ll see as the summer goes, too,” she said. “Maybe after a month we’ll decide it’s okay; we don’t need the masks.” She said that concerns remain for younger children who are not yet able to receive the vaccine. “We’re just going to take it in small steps,” she said.She also said that some of the members of the congregation who work in the medical field will be consulted as well to decide what would work best for this particular church group.
Wiest-Laird added that the church’s food distribution program is still going strong, and they are even looking at expanding it “because it’s still such a huge need.”
Some community programs were recently held out on the lawn at First Baptist Church, and she said “you could just feel the excitement” that people experienced to “be back in a space, listening to live music.”
Overall, she said she is looking forward to returning to something that feels a little more normal, and is especially excited to sing again during mass.
“There’s just a real strong need for that,” Wiest-Laird said. “I think everybody’s going to be really excited about that.”