Parishioners head into Church of the Transfiguration, 25225 Code Road, July 5. The church recently reopened after the state shutdown order was lifted.

Parishioners head into Church of the Transfiguration, 25225 Code Road, July 5. The church recently reopened after the state shutdown order was lifted.

Photo by Deb Jacques

Houses of worship weigh pros, cons of reopening amid pandemic in Southfield

By: Kayla Dimick | Southfield Sun | Published July 7, 2020

 Attendees of the service are required to wear masks, church officials said.

Attendees of the service are required to wear masks, church officials said.

Photo by Deb Jacques


SOUTHFIELD — Since the state shutdown order was rescinded June 1, some local houses of worship are opting to stay closed, while others are welcoming back their members.

When Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay at home order was signed March 23, it prohibited all public and private gatherings of any number of people not part of a single household.

However, another part of the order stated that places of worship, when used for religious worship, were not subject to penalty for violating the order.

Despite this, many religious institutions in Southfield opted to close their doors and move their worship online.

Rabbi Aaron Starr, of Congregation Shaarey Zedek, 27375 Bell Road, said the synagogue is currently taking steps to resume its regular worship schedule.

Starr said the organization’s congregational prayer experiences were moved online, as well as youth and adult educational programs, and social gatherings.

“We are indeed taking small steps back toward regular worship in our building, though ‘regular’ somehow does not seem an apt term,” Starr said in an email.

When COVID-19 began to ravage Michigan, Starr said, the congregational leadership at Shaarey Zedek formed a Building Readiness Task Force, along with a Shabbat and Holiday Task Force.

Starr said the Building Readiness Task Force was formed to make sure congregation members stay safe amid the pandemic, and the Shabbat and Holiday Task Force explores how to provide the best services to synagogue members while hosting services online and with the gradual return to the building.

Everyone who enters the building or the campus is required to wear a mask and abide by social distancing regulations. Attendees must also complete a pre-registration process, and have their temperatures checked prior to entering the building, Starr said.

Starr said keeping the community safe is a core Jewish principle.

“As such, while we yearn to return fully to our beautiful edifice, we proceed slowly and carefully, mindful of the law and with extreme dedication to the health and welfare of all who participate in our experiences,” Starr said in an email.

The Very Rev. Chris Yaw said the doors of St. David’s Episcopal Church, 16200 W. 12 Mile Road, are going to remain closed for the foreseeable future.

Yaw said Episcopal leaders announced recently that churches can once again hold in-person services, but the Southfield parish has decided to remain closed, opting instead to hold services online.

“We sent out a survey to the membership. Most of them said, ‘You know what? There’s a deadly virus out there,’” Yaw said. “It’s the places where a large number of people come together that become mega-spreaders of the virus, and St. David’s doesn’t want to be a part of that.”

In lieu of in-person services, Yaw said, the church will be hosting two “drive-in” type services in the parking lot of the church, July 18 and Aug. 23.

Attendees will view the service from the safety of their cars while the service is held on the church’s lawn.

“You can sing in your car,” Yaw said. “Let the Lord be with you, honk honk.”

Yaw said the church does not currently have any plans to reopen soon.

“We’re going to wait and see how the fall goes. I think that it’s important we pay attention to the doctors and see what they say,” Yaw said.  “It’s pretty easy. You just follow the experts.”

Father Jeff Scheeler, of the Church of the Transfiguration, 25225 Code Road, said the church recently reopened.

“We are back open for public worship, but we are under some limitations. All other parish events are suspended, like our committees, celebrations and educational programs. We can have events at the pastor’s discretion and in small groups of under 10 people.”

Scheeler said the church has also been streaming Mass online every day on the church’s Facebook page.

The parish is also taking many safety precautions, such as requiring everyone to wear a mask and to follow proper social distancing measures. Scheeler said every other pew is roped off, and ushers help seat attendees in sections designated for families, couples and individuals. Touch points inside the church are also sprayed down with disinfectant after every service.

The church hasn’t run into too many problems with members following the guidelines, Scheeler said, but the biggest difficulty throughout the pandemic was not being able to connect with the congregation.

“This was a terrible time for somebody to lose someone. We couldn’t have the rituals to help them grieve,” he said. “We also couldn’t visit people in hospitals or visit shut-ins or people who are stuck at home.”

Scheeler said church officials are trying their best to reconnect with the community.

“We’re learning as we go,” he said. “We are just trying to maintain a connection with people. We still have a number of people who don’t feel safe yet. We called every parishioner just to see how they were doing.”