Greta Lozada of Baldwin praying St. Agnes Parish Center in...

Greta Lozada of Baldwin praying St. Agnes Parish Center in Rockville Center on this Ash Wednesday March 6, 2019. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Religious leaders began making preparations to resume worship services after nearly two months of state-mandated restrictions on public gatherings. 

Starting Thursday, a state ban in place since March 22 on public religious gatherings is being relaxed with certain restrictions, for synagogues, churches, mosques and other houses of worship. Indoor restrictions call for 10 or fewer people with a mandate for social distancing and face coverings. Outdoor restrictions call for only drive-in/parking lot services. 

The exception for public gatherings was announced Wednesday by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo at his daily news conference. His office did not respond to follow-up questions seeking more details about the new rules.

New York State, which has had more deaths and infections from the coronavirus pandemic than anywhere else in the country, represented a minority of American states, most of which made exceptions for religious gatherings. 

On Long Island as across the state, minyans, Masses and mosque prayer have been suspended for months.

“I have not missed church this much ever in my whole life,” said Pastor Todd Bishop of the nondenominational Church Unleashed in Commack, who plans to hold a drive-in, socially distanced service in the parking lot — one spot between each parked vehicle — with the ceremony broadcast on two giant LED screens and audio transmitted on short-range FM radio. Masks are recommended. No sitting on car roofs. No lawn chairs.

The first service is planned for June 14. 

A flier advertising the first in-person gathering since March 15...

A flier advertising the first in-person gathering since March 15 at the nondenominational Church Unleashed of Commack. On June 14, the congregation will hold a drive-in service in the parking lot — one spot spaced between each vehicle — with the ceremony broadcast on two LED screens, with audio via FM radio wave. Credit: Church Unleashed of Commack

“We believe gathering is essential to the Christian faith,” Bishop said.  During the ban, the church distributed to-go Communion for Good Friday from the parking lot and livestreamed online services. 

Rabbi Anchelle Perl, who runs the Mineola chapter of the Hasidic outreach group Chabad, is polling his congregation about how and when to resume services. Given the services can’t exceed 10 attendees, he said it’s possible he’ll hold services in shifts, especially for the upcoming Pentecost, known in Judaism as Shavuot, which tends to draw many times that. 

Perl said Chabad rabbis from around the world have been texting Wednesday via WhatsApp about how to resume religious gatherings. 

Sean Dolan, a spokesman for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, said the diocese, though still obtaining information about the directive, "will begin to adapt public liturgies with proper safety precautions as soon as possible.”

The Rev. Arthur L. Mackey Jr., senior pastor of Mount Sinai Baptist Church Cathedral in Roosevelt, welcomed Cuomo’s announcement but said he would proceed with caution as members of his congregations have recently died of the virus. 

“We still don’t want to put the lives of the congregants in threat,” he said, adding that in-person services have been on pause but that many new members have joined the church through the Internet. 

Habeeb Ahmed, president of the Islamic Center of Long Island, praised the announcement but said it wouldn’t affect operations because the allowable number of worshippers is too small. 

He added that Muslims are celebrating Ramadan, a monthlong period of worship and fasting that ends this weekend with a large feast that would normally draw 7,000 to 8,000 people to the center’s celebration. 

“It will be impossible for us to cater to that many people,” Ahmed said, adding: “How would we choose those people?” he asked. “All sorts of questions would arise, and many people would be unhappy.”

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