Catholic churches in Brookfield, Riverside, North Riverside and LaGrange Park — Mater Christi, St. Barbara, St Louise de Marillac and St. Mary — were not” open for business” as usual on Sunday morning because Cardinal Cupich, with the stroke of a pen, had temporarily suspended Mass in all 344 parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago.
The same held for St. Paul Episcopal Church in Riverside, where Father Luke Wetzel announced the closure on the church’s website. All parish activities and Sunday Mass are canceled through March 29.
But many other churches polled by Landmark said that they had held services or made no mention of a closure on their websites. Those who responded to inquiries by the Landmark all emphasized that they took great pains to avoid spreading germs.
Cornerstone Community Church in Brookfield, for example, said they did hold worship Sunday and that they are doing what the CDC is advising, like washing hands, keeping social distance and washing down chairs and tables before and after every service and class.
Likewise, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Brookfield held worship services as usual and even included the receiving of Holy Communion as they had always done, while at the same promoting the use of hand sanitizer and the other usual safeguards.
Although St. Nikola Serbian Orthodox Church announced on its website that it would continue to hold Sunday services as usual, but advised caution, particularly by elderly parishioners, advising them to stay home.
“Since we know by now that older people are the most affected by this virus, we advise them to stay home in the coming days,” the Very Rev. Nemanja Tesic wrote. “They will be in prayer with us, and we ask them to pray for us. We also encourage all those who have flu and cold symptoms, and those who are afraid to stay in their homes and pray. Whenever we fall out of holy worship for a valid reason — that’s okay.”
Riverside Presbyterian Church’s pastor, the Rev. Dale Jackson, said while the congregation held worship services Sunday, it was not an indication of future policy. The church’s leaders were expected to meet March 18 to assess the fast-changing situation and make a decision regarding what to do next Sunday.
Rev. Chris Honig, pastor of Ascension Lutheran Church in Riverside, said that the decision had been made to suspend all gatherings, meetings and worship services through the end of March.
A post on the church’s Facebook page connected church members to a web page with links to readings for the third Sunday in Lent and the text for that week’s sermon “receiving Water in the Wilderness.”
Whether the decision was made to close the doors of the church or to keep them open, church leaders acknowledged that the decision was based on where to draw the line between prudence on the one hand and a tolerance for risk on the other.
“This was not a decision I made lightly,” said Cardinal Blase Cupich. “The Eucharist is the source and summit of our life as Catholics. And our schools and agencies provide essential services to many thousands across Cook and Lake Counties. But, in consultation with leaders from across the archdiocese, for the sake of the safety of our students, parishioners, and all the women and men who serve the people of the archdiocese, it is clear that we must take the better part of caution in order to slow the spread of this pandemic.”
The Chicago Archdiocese is broadcasting Mass via YouTube.
Meanwhile, Compassion United Methodist Church in Brookfield is held worship service last Sunday, even with a fraction of their regular attendance. The Rev. Karl Sokol also video recorded the service and send it out to members who chose to maintain social distance by staying at home.
One difference which might help explain why Catholics and many Protestant congregations came down in different places, even though they share the same concerns, is structure or church polity.
The Catholic church has an episcopal polity, which places the bishops at the top of the power pyramid, while most Protestant churches have a congregational polity, which places each individual congregation at the top.