Philly archdiocese to resume Mass in June, houses of worship debate reopening plans

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is planning to resume daily Mass on June 6 in response to Governor Tom Wolf's yellow phase announcement, as other houses of worship debate their own reopening plans.

On Friday, President Trump deemed that houses of worship are essential and he wants churches, synagogues, and mosques back open this weekend.

He said if governors don't abide by his request, he will "override" them, though it's unclear what authority he has to do so.

"People are demanding to go to church, synagogues, to their mosques," Trump said. "I call upon governors to allow houses of worship to open right now."

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On the same day, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf said that houses of worship were never closed in the state.

"We actually never closed religious organizations," said Wolf. "If you're a leader of any religious organization, I think your first mission is to keep your parishioners safe."

The president, meanwhile, pointed to religious leaders who he said have been asking him to declare houses of worship essential.

During that same press conference, Wolf said he anticipates Philadelphia and its surrounding counties will move into the yellow phase of Pennsylvania's reopening plan by June 5. The yellow phase lifts some restrictions from the red phase.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia said it is basing its plans on resuming Mass at the beginning of June on those statements from Wolf.

"As such, it is projected that the celebration of daily and Sunday Masses will resume beginning on Saturday, June 6th," the statement read.

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In mid-March, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia suspended public Mass amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It is important to note that Catholic churches in the Archdiocese have never been closed. Local parish churches have remained open for private prayer as well as the celebration of the Sacraments Baptism, Penance, Matrimony, and funeral Masses at the discretion of the local pastor and with respect for guidelines from public health officials as they have evolved over time," the statement from the Archdiocese read.

Rev. Dr. Alyn Waller of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church in Philadelphia agreed that church was never closed.

"The church is more than just gathering in a sanctuary," said Waller, who survived coronavirus himself. "What the president just did was political pandering to the extreme right wing to make a point for their votes."

Other religious communities are figuring out their next steps following the president's remarks.

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Temple Menorah Keneseth Chai Synagogue in Northeast Philadelphia strategized on a Zoom call Friday the safest way to reopen.

"Because we have an elderly, an older congregation we're not going to open up right away," said Malcolm Adler, president of Temple Menorah Keneseth Chai.

Solid Rock Baptist Church in Berlin, New Jersey announced Wednesday they would open for Sunday service. They released a video message, praising the president and asking Governor Phil Murphy for support as well.

Bible Baptist Church in Clementon had already reopened in defiance of state laws.

Once adamant about keeping his doors open for Easter, pastor Herbert Lusk of Philadelphia's Greater Exodus Baptist Church on Broad Street said he won't rush reopening.

"We do things safely, sanitize, and use social distancing. Churches must open, churches are opening," Lusk said. "The time is now - not this Sunday, I don't think we're going to do it this Sunday."

Reverend Waller said no one is "clamoring to get open on Sunday."

"None of us are questioning whether we're essential," Waller said. "Science suggests that it's not good to put crowds in the same place."

Residents are split on the issue.

"A lot of things are opening as long as we have the safeguards," said Henry from Delaware County.

"I personally wouldn't go to my synagogue from what I understand being indoors and in another space is more dangerous," said Jennifer Raphael of Graduate Hospital. "I'm praying just fine at home."

Houses of worship are left to decide whether to re-open. If they do, they'll do so under new CDC guidelines. Those guidelines encourage churches to update their emergency operations plans while working with local health officials.

They're also encouraged to address issues such as social distancing and to think about alternatives to common practices. For example, the CDC suggests nodding or waving instead of shaking hands. They are also encouraged to consider online collections or a collection box instead of passing the collection plate.

"The administration of the Archdiocese has been working in consultation with public health officials to ensure that such a resumption takes place within the context of state approved guidelines and is actively working to provide appropriate guidance to its clergy so that all will be as prepared as possible when the public celebration of Mass begins again. All of us are eager to open the doors of Church wide for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist," the Archdiocese of Philadelphia statement read.

The guidelines also encourage houses of worship to increase their cleaning, encourage healthy hygiene and to be ready to close again, at least temporarily, if a member test positive for COVID19.

"We are definitely going to be prayerful," said Pastor Garth Gittens of Calvary Baptist Church in West Philadelphia, "so when God opens this it will be well done."

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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