Many churches halt services because of COVID-19 worries

Derek Hansen, pastor of the Adirondack Community Church in Lake Placid, is seen here on Facebook Live Sunday, March 15 during the 10:30 a.m. service. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

Many North Country houses of worship are canceling services to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

On Tuesday, March 17, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Ogdensburg, which covers more than 100 churches across northern New York, canceled all Masses until further notice. This included all the local Catholic churches such as St. Bernard’s in Saranac Lake, St. Agnes in Lake Placid and St. Alphonsus Holy Name of Jesus in Tupper Lake. A full directory of the churches can be found at rcdony.org.

Other houses of worship have closed, too.

The Adirondack Community Church in Lake Placid announced Monday that it will stream video of its Sunday services on Facebook Live at 10:30 a.m.

The Lake Placid Baptist Church will move to a system in which people can connect with services through the church’s website, https://lakeplacidchurch.com, Pastor Jim Koenig said Tuesday.

Wilmington’s Whiteface Community United Methodist Church temporarily canceled its public services and closed down its thrift shop.

The Lake Placid Synagogue canceled public services weeks ago, before the state issued major shutdowns of bars, restaurants, theaters and other places where people gather.

“This was a difficult decision to make, and it was made knowing some of the faithful may be saddened or unhappy with the suspension of Mass and gatherings,” Bishop Terry LaValley, head of the Catholic Diocese of Ogdensburg, said in a press release. “It was also made with the hopes of ensuring the continued good health of the faithful, including our clergy. I feel we are working to protect all lives, especially the most vulnerable among us, by observing the recommendations to practice social distancing and avoid large gatherings. I hope and pray we can lift this suspension in time for Holy Week and Easter, but that decision will be made only after consideration of the information available to us closer to that time.”

This comes in the middle of the 40-day season of Lent, a time when many Christians prepare for Easter by focusing on hardship and deprivation. Catholics often mark Lent by giving up things they enjoy and praying the Stations of the Cross, recalling the details Jesus’ execution as described in the Bible.

The Ogdensburg diocese’s press release said priests are encouraged to celebrate the Mass in private until the suspension on public Masses and gatherings is lifted.

At a pastor’s discretion, a Catholic church in the diocese may be open for personal prayer, though in the interest of avoiding large gatherings, prayer services and devotions such as the Stations of the Cross are to be suspended. If a church is open for personal prayer, the diocese said care should be taken to ensure it is thoroughly cleaned daily, including all surfaces, and that social distancing is maintained.

Weddings, funerals and baptisms may proceed, but attendance should be limited to immediate family, and social distancing should be maintained. Fresh water should be used for each baptism. Emergency baptisms will continue to be conferred.

Confession can continue, but social distancing and precautions should be implemented during the administration of the sacrament.

Pastoral care, including the Anointing of the Sick, will still be available in emergency situations.

The decision to shut down gatherings came as a shock to the Rev. Martin Cline, pastor of St. Bernard’s Catholic Church in Saranac Lake.

“I’ve been a priest for 15 years, and I can’t remember any time I’ve had this happen,” he said. “You don’t often wake up and say, ‘We should probably not celebrate Mass.'”

Bishop William Love, head of the Episcopal Diocese of Albany, issued a letter Tuesday suspending all regular Sunday and weekday services in the diocese through the end of March.

This includes about 125 churches, including St. Eustace in Lake Placid, St. Luke’s in Saranac Lake, St. Thomas’ in Tupper Lake and St. James in AuSable Forks.

“It is my hope and prayer that we will be able to resume services in time for Holy Week and Easter, but will need to wait to reevaluate the situation at that time, before making a final determination,” Love wrote.

He asked that funeral and burial services be limited to immediate family members only, perhaps with memorial services for the dead scheduled later.

Each Sunday, the diocese will post a new recorded sermon and celebration of Holy Communion on its website for people to listen to.

This article does not cover every house of worship that has canceled its gatherings — just the ones the News knows about so far.

(Lake Placid News Editor Andy Flynn contributed to this report.)