SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) – Gov. Andrew Cuomo has appointed three Syracuse pastors to the newly formed Interfaith Advisory Council. The purpose of the Council is to discuss proposals to safely bring back religious services in New York State.
Over the next few weeks, Pastor Phil Turner of Bethany Baptist Church, Pastor Daren C. Jaime of People’s A.M.E. Zion Church and Pastor Max Jones of Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ will meet with more than 50 other faith leaders from around New York State to devise a plan to safely re-open churches at an acceptable capacity.
Starting Thursday, May 21, religious gatherings of no more than 10 people will be allowed statewide, where strict social distancing measures are enforced and all participants wear masks.
Additionally, drive-in and parking lot services will also be allowed beginning Thursday.
“I myself already have 10 people in service just to do an online worship experience. So we are hearing towards government a lot of pushback about the 10, so how do we get that to go up a little more gradually? So these next few meetings we will talk about how do we get that up more gradually and also about safety precautions we will need for the house of worship,” said Pastor Jaime.
Clergy across the state are currently in the planning phase of safely re-opening, but with those plans, come challenges of an evolving pandemic and limited resources to ensure the safety of congregants.
“One of my suggestions to the governor is to provide our churches with sanitizers, provide our churches with masks…so that we will have that on hand,” Pastor Jones said.
There’s an even deeper issue for churches located in marginalized communities, which are typically densely populated areas. Black and Brown people are being infected at a higher rate than other populations according to recent state and national data, so these pastors say educating their members on testing, tracing and community spread is a top priority.
“We are also dealing with a significant number of pre-existing conditions so even at the start, we can’t herd everyone back in the church. It will have to be done in phases,” Pastor Turner said.
Over the next few weeks, clergy will examine everything from the sanitization process between services to different entry and exit points for parishioners. They will also re-examine the worship experience.
The pastors will also look at practicing and enforcing social distancing at all times.
“Churches are unique all by themselves so it requires a different set of eyes and circumstances, so that’s what this council will do, address those needs in specific,” said Pastor Jaime.
To watch the full interview between NewsChannel 9’s Jennifer Sanders and the Interfaith Advisory Council, click on the video below.