Bells rang in communities across Las Vegas throughout the weekend as personal services began in many churches for the first time in months.
At the request of Governor Steve Sisolak to increase allowable public gatherings from 50 to 250, several places of worship in the region returned to live services over the weekend while others who held services below the previous maximum of 50 are preparing to to get closer participation before COVID.
Although Saturday night had a small turnout in some Henderson churches, those who came were excited to put their church shoes back on and celebrate with friends with few restrictions.
The Catholic Church of St. Francis of Assisi asked parishioners to pre-register online and the RSVPs were registered upon arrival. Only a few dozen cars were scattered around the gaping parking lot for Saturday night’s mass, but outsiders marveled at the completed school next door, which enrolled students during the pandemic.
Old friends gathered on the street at New Song Church in Anthem to admire how beautiful their sacred home looked.
About a dozen people gathered in the meetinghouse to listen to Pastor Paul Block, who spoke in person for the first time since July, when the church briefly opened with a maximum of 25 people.
“It’s my family”
Connie Lerner, 78, who lives in Sun City Anthem, parked in front of the church and helped her friend Dottie Roser, 75, with her walker when the two entered the church. The women admired the way the seats were organized, with two seats in each row of six blocked for distancing. Roser spent the time in front of church going to greet people while Lerner attended Block’s Bible study.
“This is a special place for me,” Lerner said between the Bible study and the 5pm service. “It’s my family.”
Lerner recalled last October, before the pandemic, and before she was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, when 26 Church members traveled to the Holy Lands of Europe and Asia. She said she still preferred Saturday night services because there was an older crowd and everyone went to dinner together afterwards.
Margaret Grunseich, 69, and fiance Tom Willmore, 77, said the sacrifice box in the back of the building and separate entrances and exits help everyone feel more secure.
“In this way we can involve more people and still be aware of our health,” said Grunseich.
Roser, Willmore’s sister, described her return to church as an “absolute blessing”.
“I can praise the Lord in a sanctuary among fellow worshipers,” she said, relieved that she had finished with the drive-through fellowship.
“So nice to be together”
Fittingly, the Rev. Drew Moore’s sermon at Canyon Ridge Christian Church on Saturday focused on the topic of “effective gatherings.”
The church has only offered online and streaming services since March, and live services resumed at full capacity that weekend – 250 people were registered for two services on Saturday and two services on Sunday.
“It’s so nice to be together,” said Moore, the Church’s senior pastor, as a greeting, and it was a perfect match for the general mood.
The seats were disinfected between the shorter shifts and all participants had to wear face masks. Executive Pastor Mitch Harrison said parishioners had no problem following the church’s new security protocols.
“It seemed to be working pretty smoothly,” he said. “We have been very diligent in helping people understand the reasons for wearing the mask.
“People are cooperative and happy to be here. I think that helps the process.”
“It’s good to see a lot of familiar faces and some new faces too,” said Harrison. “Some people are just ready to go back to church and meet again.”
Mike Wagoner, who has been a member of the Church for about 15 years, said returning was “almost like coming home. I see my friends again. “
He has also found that participating in a live service helps him focus compared to a live streaming or video service.
“I have less distraction here,” said Wagoner. “Your whole mind is set to come to God.”
As with many district churches, the Catholic Church of the Holy Spirit asked parishioners to register online, and all 250 seats were reserved for 9:30 a.m. Mass, Rev. William Kenny said. Social distancing measures included wearing masks and disinfecting hands. This involved having parishioners sit at the ends of the pews and only use any other pew.
Communion was limited to wafers. Wine from goblets was not given out.
The church has been celebrating mass since June and is capping the number of people to 50, Kenny said.
“There is a real hunger for the Eucharist. We have had hundreds who have seen it live but they cannot take communion, ”he said, adding that many are also likely to miss the fellowship and socialization that the mass offers.
Kenny said he was confident church attendance would pick up again after the pandemic. He said he heard that some people found time to read the Bible during the pandemic and others realized they needed to work on their relationship with God.
“Maybe that’s the silver lining – some people have realized the importance of God,” he said.
John and Elizabeth Reyes said they limited themselves to going to Mass once a month to make sure others got a chance to go.
As the number of parishioners increased, Elizabeth Reyes said she missed everyone’s robust and collective singing – the church typically holds 1,700 people.
“We always think there should be more people,” said John Reyes. “You did a good job. Everyone is spread out and has made sure that everyone is wearing a mask. “
There was an outdoor service over at Desert Spring United Methodist Church for a maximum of 60 people, Rev. David Devereaux said.
The chairs were placed outside in clusters based on the number of people registered in each party. Each group was 6 feet apart. All wore masks and hand sanitizer was available.
“I’ve been preaching this on camera for seven months,” said Devereaux. “I missed seeing people and the community.”