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Indianapolis churches ready to reopen sanctuaries

Marion County houses of worship can welcome people back inside this weekend.

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) — Marion County houses of worship can welcome people back inside this weekend.

Services will be limited to 50 percent capacity and must observe social distancing, with everyone wearing a mask.

Yellow caution tape marking off rows of chairs makes the sanctuary at Southside Reformed Presbyterian Church look like a crime scene. The figurative crime is people forbidden to gather for worship the past two months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"There's a real spiritual encounter with the Lord when we're meeting together in a way that you just can't capture in your own living room and your own study on your own," said Senior Pastor David Hanson.

But Pastor Hanson was tearing the caution tape Thursday to make room for up to 75 people in each of three services Sunday. People will sit in different rows each service. Family groups will be separated by at least two empty chairs.

Hanson believes the church can accommodate anyone who wants to sign up to attend a service in the sanctuary. But there is some dislike in forcing people to have a reservation to come to church.

Southside Reformed Presbyterian Church (WTHR)

The offering plate will not be passed. People can drop their offering in a plate at the entrance to the sanctuary, where hand sanitizer and masks are available. The limited crowd will be dismissed by rows.

“It's going to be a little bit smaller,” Hanson said. “It's going to be a little bit different. People will have on masks. The singing will be a little bit muffled, these sorts of things. But at the end of the day, one of our priorities as a church is to worship together."

Warren Baptist Church on the east side averages about 45 people in worship. The church has social distancing room for 30 in its sanctuary this Sunday. The pastor screens members before they enter the sanctuary. Family groups must be separated by four empty chairs. The sanctuary is dismissed by rows, with one row exiting the building before the next row leaves their seats.

"It feels and looks a little different, but it's just wonderful to have people here,” said Dr. Jim Wright, Warren Baptist Church pastor. “This building was built on the back of many saints several years ago, and it wasn't built to sit empty. It was built for the body of believers to gather together for worship."

Dr. Jim Wright, Warren Baptist Church pastor. (WTHR)

Dr. Wright said even limited reserved seating is better than the alternative of the coronavirus quarantine.

"It’s a very lonely feeling,” Dr. Wright said. “A very isolated feeling. We need each other. We’re called to gather to worship together, to bear one another's burdens, to encourage each other."

Many other houses of worship are keeping their doors closed due to health safety concerns for their members. The Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation continues online worship indefinitely.

“The Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis’ Safe Indy Initiative, a collaboration between Jewish organizations and synagogues throughout the community, has been preparing for resumption of operations and services,” said Grant Mendenhall, Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis community security director. “In these unprecedented times, the goal of this collaborative effort has been to ensure plans are in place to provide enhanced safety and security for members of the Jewish community, and all community members who utilize Jewish facilities now, and into the future.”

Churches can also hold outdoor services with social distancing but no limits on the crowd. Face coverings are recommended.