The website Churchfinder lists over 50 faith communities in the Oak Park, River Forest area. A quick, unscientific survey by Wednesday Journal concludes about two-thirds of them have done a cost/benefit analysis in this age of COVID-19 and have chosen to remain closed for now and to continue airing their worship services online.
Those deciding that discretion is the better part of valor include First United, Calvary Memorial, Village Church, Pilgrim United Church of Christ, Unity Temple, First Baptist, Judson Baptist United Lutheran, Good Shepherd Lutheran, Fair Oaks Presbyterian, Euclid Avenue Methodist, Oak Park Temple, West Suburban Temple, First United Methodist, Christ Episcopal, and Grace Lutheran.
A message on the First United Methodist Church website seemed to sum up how many church and temple members feel about worshipping virtually: “Our normal ways of doing things and of being community has been thoroughly disrupted by COVID-19. We’re developing new skills and using new tools to be in ministry in this moment. We will keep this announcement updated with our latest news and offerings. Right now we are putting information and devotional thoughts on our church Facebook page.
Pastor Cisco Cotto at Village Church added, “This has been, and may continue to be, a difficult time for all of us. Please continue to be in prayer for our nation, our community, and for our church.”
The Archdiocese of Chicago, in contrast, made the decision to allow all of its 316 parishes—including the six in the OPRF area—to reopen, albeit with strict limitations.
Rev. James Hurlbert, pastor of Ascension Catholic Church in Oak Park, reported, “We are fully open now, but with limited seating for Mass. Twenty-five to 150 people. (The maximum 20 percent seating capacity of the church). People must register/reserve a seat online or by calling the parish office. This way of reopening requires many volunteers forgreeting and setting up and ushering and the sanitizing the church between services. So far, so good!”
“I have been a priest now for 37 years,” said Rev. Carl Morello, the pastor of St. Giles, “and never in my wildest dreams would I have thought we would see such restrictions in our church for the celebration of mass, the open and public prayer for all God’s people. However, as Cardinal Cupich has reminded his priests and all pastors, this is a respect life issue keeping everyone safe and healthy during this pandemic.
“Finally, let me say that I have deliberately, with the help of my committees to open church, made the decision to move slowly and cautiously on our reopening. I wanted to be sure there were no huge spikes in the virus as more and more people move around freely but many without any caution or care,” said Morello.
Other smaller congregations which have partially reopened are Christ Lutheran Church, Harrison Street Bible Church, New Life Christian Fellowship, and Our Lady Immaculate Catholic (Society of St. Pius X) at its priory in Chicago.
Some congregations have moved out of their liturgical boxes, so to speak, and have adapted to the pandemic by being creative. The First Presbyterian Church in River Forest, for example, has been creating what they call “satellite sanctuaries” which are “small, in-home gatherings on Sunday mornings. . . to watch the eWorship services together.”
St. Christopher Episcopal Church has started weekly Eucharist services on the lawn for 10 people or less which are offered on Sundays at four different times and which follow all of the state and CDC guidelines.