Governor clears way for parking lot religious services

Gov. Phil Murphy made an announcement Wednesday that eases the way for institutions of worship to accommodate outdoor services. It will hopefully provide some solace to those who’ve been needing it.

“We are stating that gatherings of vehicles, such as drive-in movies or religious services, are not a violation of my order prohibiting mass gatherings, so long as all participants remain in their cars,” Murphy said during his daily press briefing.

The spiritual impact of a pandemic is not easily seen but, among the faithful, it is felt deeply. And while the state’s lockdown orders have shuttered almost all places of worship, holy men and women have had to minister to their congregants as best they could. But technology is not a place and the impact is not the same.

“When you walk into a church, synagogue, mosque, any sacred place, when you’re a believer, when you’re a member of that religion, there is something that surrounds you as you walk into the environment. It triggers something inside of your soul,” said David O’Connell, bishop of the Diocese of Trenton.

And drive-by services, with congregants confined to their cars, are not likely to do the trick. So religious organizations are working toward developing protocols aimed at somehow getting the doors to their houses of worship reopened.

The Diocese of Trenton has chosen Wednesday, the feast of our Lady of Fatima, to begin the process by allowing local churches to open their doors for private prayer, no formal services, with strict guidelines.

“No more than 10 people can be in the church at the same time. You have to sit a 6 foot minimum from one another. They’re asked not to, you know, come in and stay all day long, to be conscious of other people who want to come in,” O’Connell said. “You know, the rest rooms can’t be open. There can’t be prayer books, or papers or anything in the pews for people to use.”

Rabbi Moshe Hauer says the synagogues and shuls in the Orthodox Union have been advised to wait and see what other religious organizations do and what kind of success they have before they open their doors, even tentatively.

“This is a matter of life or death, literally, and not just for our communities, our own nuclear communities, so to speak, but for the broader American community, for thebroader public health. And we have to continue to be responsible participants in that process,” Hauer said.

In Bayonne, Pastor Gary Grindeland says his congregation has been yearning to reconnect in their place of worship. But he knows that that won’t happen for a while yet. Still, he says, essential work goes on.

“Our boots are on the ground, so we’re taking care of need. So that doesn’t change. Tegardless of what happens in Trenton or Washington, DC, we’re still doing the work of our ministry,”  Grindeland, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, said.

You could call the governor’s announcement a half measure, but spiritual leaders remind us that connections to the sacred can be made wherever and whenever you choose to make them — whether you’re inside a house of worship or in a parking lot.