COVID-19 restrictions challenge two local churches trying to honor traditions

By Felicity Taylor

Easter Sunday service at Lexington Presbyterian Church marks just the fourth week of in-person service since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic last March.

“We have made accommodations throughout history to break bread together,” the Rev. Kelly-Ann Rayle said. But members of the congregation missed gathering in the space.

Staying out of the church wasn’t a long-term option for St. Patrick’s Catholic Church.

According to Catholic teachings, communion is the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Communion is taken at almost every Mass throughout the year, and the Church encourages Catholics to receive communion as often as possible.

According to Presbyterian teachings, communion represents the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Lexington Presbyterian parishioners take communion every other week. Other Presbyterian churches differ in their practices.

Lexington Presbyterian can fit 125 people to comply with COVID-19 protocols, while St. Patrick’s can accommodate 50 people with overflow in the Parish Hall. Both churches require masks and social distancing.

Rayle said her church’s COVID-19 task force decided in-person

Lexington Presbyterian Church. Photo by Felicity Taylor.

services wouldn’t resume until coronavirus cases in the Rockbridge area were down to 45 per 100,000 people.

Lexington Presbyterian purchased single-serve communion wafers to hand out to parishioners at the service, the pastor said. The wafers are in peel-off packaging that parishioners can open and consume when they feel safe.

“We are not eating from one loaf or drinking from one cup,” Rayle said.

At St. Patrick’s, Catholics must “break bread” from one loaf and line up to receive communion in their hands. Catholic Masses are interactive and require movement.

St. Patrick’s the Rev. Joseph D’Aurora discourages his parishioners from holding hands while speaking the Lord’s Prayer or shaking hands with strangers during the sign of peace.

At services, churchgoers seem to do what feels comfortable.

Lexington Presbyterian doesn’t allow any singing at its services and encourages parishioners to hum.

Rayle said the majority of the in-person service-goers are over 65.

St. Patrick’s has a large student population that includes Virginia Military Institute cadets and Washington and Lee University students at the 5 p.m. Mass on Saturdays.

Lexington Presbyterian will offer one service at 11 a.m. on Easter Sunday. St. Patrick’s will offer an Easter Vigil Mass on Saturday evening and three Masses on Sunday.

Rayle said about 100 seats have been reserved for Easter, which is nearly all that are available at Lexington Presbyterian. St. Patrick’s welcomes worshipers on a first-come, first-served basis.

Both churches will livestream their services.