Houses of worship in the Kansas City metro are canceling services and other activities as states, cities and businesses take drastic steps to prevent spreading the coronavirus.
The area’s largest church, 23,000-member United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, has canceled public worship services at its five locations this Sunday for the first time in its 29-year history. The church already offers online services, which will be offered at the usual times.
“Our decision to have online worship only is an expression of our faith," Senior Pastor Adam Hamilton said in amessage to church members. "In doing this we may well save lives by reducing the likelihood and pace of the spread of the disease. That is our hope and intent."
Communion was served as normal over the last two Sundays at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral in downtown Kansas City, Missouri, though congregants were told it was OK if they didn't want to drink wine from the communal cup.
"Don't feel like you have to do anything, that the sacrament is still legitimate if you only received the bread," said Rev. Andrew C. Keyse, the dean of the Episcopal church.
A directive earlier this week from the bishop of the Episcopal diocese recommended further changes, including refraining from contact during The Peace, the liturgical exchange of greetings often accompanied by an embrace or handclasp.
Keyse said he's now advising his congregation to "just sort of nod and smile and speak to your neighbor."
And while wine will still be served at communion, "we'll only administer the bread at the altar rail and we'll have wine at a separate station where you can go if you would like to receive it," Keyes said. "But you don't have to."
Grace and Holy Trinity, which typically draws around 200 worshippers at its largest Sunday service, has no plans at the moment to cancel services.
In contrast, Community Christian Church near the Country Club Plaza, which is affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), has canceled its 8:30 a.m. chapel service for the next three Sundays.
One of its members, Steven Stites, is chief medical officer of the University of Kansas Medical Center. "At his suggestion, we're not offering worship in that space because there's just not the space for social distancing," said the Rev. Shanna Steitz, the church’s senior minister.
"So we will only be at one service," she said. "We will be in our sanctuary."
Shortly after Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas issued a state of emergency on Thursday, the church's executive committee met and decided to limit all church-related activities for the next 21 days. Although the church typically draws around 200 worshippers on Sundays – well below the 1,000-person gatherings canceled by the mayor's declaration – its members come from eight counties, 23 cities and 62 zip codes, according to Steitz.
Like Grace and Holy Trinity, Community Christian will celebrate communion during worship, but unlike the former will offer only the bread – and only Steitz will handle it while wearing gloves.
"As a faith Community, our first priority is always the spiritual health of people but we are a Community who strive to balance both faith and reason," Steitz wrote in a message to her congregants. "We are people of head and heart. We are a community that emphasizes a holistic approach to loving God, loving self, and loving neighbor."
Beth Shalom Congregation, a Conservative Jewish synagogue in Overland Park, has canceled its Saturday morning services, though it will continue to hold weekday morning services, which typically draw no more than 15 people, at the synagogue.
"The Hebrew word for synagogue is 'beit knesset,' which means house of assembly," said David Glickman, the synagogue's rabbi. "Though the coronavirus will affect our physical gathering, we will hold true to our mission of being a place of sacred communion and uplift in people's lives."
The Temple, Congregation B'nai Jehuda, a Reform Jewish congregation in Overland Park, went ahead with services today, but plans to reevaluate the situation on Monday.
"As of right now, we are still operating as usual," B'nai Jehudah's executive director, Jennifer Green Baer, told KCUR on Friday. "We've made some modifications, but whether or not that will change we'll have a better idea on Monday."
The Islamic Center of Johnson County is encouraging congregants – especially the elderly, children, people with chronic illnesses and anyone who recently traveled – to hold Friday prayers at home.
While the center will continue to hold five daily prayers, all other activities, including Quran school, camp, workshops and speaker events, have been suspended.
"Please do not shake hands or give each other hugs," Moben Mirza, the secretary of the center's board of trustees and a physician himself instructed in a message to congregants. "Please wash and sanitize your hands frequently. Cover your cough and sneeze. Regularly disinfect frequently touched objects. Stay home if you are not well. Bring your own prayer rug to the masjid."
St. James United Methodist Church, which collectively draws more than 1,000 members to its three Sunday worship services at two locations, is urging members to observe CDC guidelines and is having a professional cleaning company sanitize the sanctuary, kids' areas and classrooms this weekend.
"Another thing we're doing is encouraging (members) to not feel obligated to come, so to speak," said Linda Settles, the church's executive pastor.
"If you’re not comfortable coming to church, that's fine. We also stream online for those who want to take advantage of that, particularly if you're in that vulnerable age group or if you have underlying health conditions," Settles said.
Communal activities, including receiving communion and passing the plate, are also being curtailed.
"We're making it individual as best we can. There are individual communion cups. And rather than passing the plate, people can either walk down and give or give in the baskets that will be at the exits as they go out," Settles said.
"One thing that we try to remind people is that people of faith are people of hope and we live in reality – we know the reality of this situation," she added.
"But the reason people come to church in many cases is to hear a message of hope in a dark world. Because where do you go to get that message? … That's kind of what weighed in on our decision not to totally cancel."
Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.