When the COVID-19 pandemic began over a year ago, one of the most immediate recognizable changes involved church services canceling in-person worship and moving online.

Over the past few months, though, local houses of worship have begun opening their doors to parishioners again, and each has taken steps at their own speeds.

For example, the Wabash Church of the Brethren moved into the second phase of their re-opening on Sunday, May 16, said administrative assistant Michelle Roudebush.

Roudebush said during this phase of the re-opening, the church would be requiring a mask while in the building and encouraging social distancing.

Roudebush said they would be refraining from congregational singing.

“We are planning to have fully vaccinated song leaders sharing during this phase,” said Roudebush.

Roudebush said they were encouraging people to visit with one another outside, after the service, as the weather permits and collecting offerings in the back of their building, in a marked box.

Roudebush said they were planning to move into the third phase of their re-opening plans starting Sunday, June 6. These changes will include recommending but not requiring a face mask while in the building, continuing to encourage social distancing, returning to congregational singing and offering plates being passed again.

Roudebush said during their second Sunday opening – which will be Sunday, May 23 – they were planning to offer coffee and juice after the worship service near the tree outside their building, weather permitting.

“This will allow us an opportunity to visit and fellowship with one another outdoors. For this time outside, we will not require face masks to be worn but will continue to recommend that you wear them unless actively drinking,” said Roudebush.

Roudebush said they wanted to ensure that those who still sought a virtual option would have that available going forward.

“We want to emphasize that our worship time is important to our life as a congregation, while also acknowledging that there continues to be a risk in gathering together. We will continue to offer a streaming option for those who are not yet ready to return to in-person services, as well as continuing to provide a weekly written worship guide,” said Roudebush. “It is our hope and prayer, that whether returning to in-person services, streaming our service online, or using the written worship guide, that all members and attenders of our congregation will be able to continue worshiping God together, continue to share in the message of Jesus Christ, and continue to work together to share the message of God’s transforming love to our community, our nation and our world.”

On Friday, Christ United Methodist Church Pastor Tom Richards said they “had been worshiping in our sanctuary for some time using masks and social distancing.”

“We also live-stream on Facebook,” said Richards.

Richards said starting Thursday, July 1 they will begin to remove those restrictions “and return to normal.”

Lincolnville United Methodist Church Pastor John Cook said they had been back to in-person services since February.

“We do provide mask for people who need or want them. Hand sanitizer is provided. Communion is done by individual cups and we will continue that practice,” said Cook. “For offering we have baskets that people can put their tithes and offering in.”

Asbury Country Church Pastor Mike Bullick said masks are now optional and they “encourage social distancing between families in the pews.”

“We will resume normal offerings, greet your neighbor and Holy Communion beginning this Sunday,” said Bullick. “Respect for one another’s preferences is a key issue.”

St. Bernard’s Church parish secretary Ann Unger said they are following directives from the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

“Anyone, vaccinated or not, with cough or fever should remain home,” said Unger. “Masks or face coverings are now optional at public liturgies. It is still recommended that unvaccinated individuals still wear masks. Safe distancing is no longer required, however, it is encouraged that, for the time being, a part of each church still be specifically set aside with safe distanced seating at Mass to accommodate those more comfortable with that arrangement.”

Ungers said since surface and water-borne transmission are not viewed as common means of viral spread, holy water stoups, and baptismal fonts should be filled again.

“Choral and cantor singing no longer have any restrictions,” said Unger.

Unger said as of Friday, June 11, the dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass will be lifted throughout the state of Indiana.

Rob Burgess, Wabash Plain Dealer editor, may be reached by email at rburgess@wabashplaindealer.com.