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Religious leaders eager to reopen say decision should be up to them

Jason Koch D’Ambrosio, pastor at Sound of Heaven Church in Deer Park, said he has held services online since March but is eager to again have services with the pews filled.  Credit: Chris Ware

As churches across Long Island go about reopening their houses of worship, local religious leaders are considering how to keep their congregations safe even though they said they, not the government, should decide when to bring their congregants back. 

Jason Koch D’Ambrosio, pastor at Sound of Heaven Church in Deer Park, said he has held services online since March but is eager to again have services with the pews filled. He said he would encourage people to maintain a social distance and recommend that those at risk of contracting COVID-19 stay home.

“I believe it’s time for all types of organizations to open with the sense of normalcy,” said D’Ambrosio, who is president of the Deer Park Chamber of Commerce. “I believe that churches should have been deemed essential with responsible gathering.”

President Donald Trump said on May 22 that all churches should reopen. He called on governors to do so and threatened to override them if they defied him.

On Friday, the Supreme Court rejected a California church’s request to challenge state limits on attendance at houses of worship to minimize the spread of the coronavirus.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced May 20 that there would be certain limits for houses of worship. Indoor restrictions would call for 10 or fewer people, with a mandate for social distancing, while outdoor restrictions would only allow for drive-in and parking lot services.  

When indoor Masses and mosque prayers were limited to small gatherings in March, religious leaders used online technology to stay connected with members. 

Vincent Cordaro, a volunteer pastor at Park Center Community Church in Ronkonkoma, said that even after shutting the church’s doors it never closed, as he continued to have Sunday services online. But he said the closure decision should have been up to him.

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“They should be up to each individual church,” Cordaro said. “But they [goverrnment officials] also need to be open to the consequences of criticism.” 

DaShun Burrell, pastor at Faith Missionary Baptist Church in Huntington Station, began holding services online in March and said that since then tithes normally collected at Sunday services had dropped dramatically. He said he has received masks and gloves from Huntington Town to make available for parishioners as he waits on guidelines from state officials to fully reopen.  

“Reopening is inevitable,” Burrell said. “I think in doing so we must be careful and mindful. We don’t want to reopen recklessly.”

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