Morristown’s Assumption church plans to re-open this weekend; Murphy gives okay to all houses of worship

Morristown's Church of the Assumption. Photo courtesy of the Morris County Freeholders
Morristown's Church of the Assumption. Photo courtesy of the Morris County Freeholders
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UPDATE: On Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Murphy lifted his stay-at-home order and said houses of worship may re-open, with new capacity limits.

You can’t make a reservation inside a Morristown restaurant. Not yet, anyway.

But starting on Saturday, June 13, 2020, you can reserve a seat in church.

Assumption Church on Maple Avenue announced on Tuesday morning that it’s taking online reservations for a limited number of seats for Masses at 5:30 pm on Saturday, and at 8 am, 10 am and 12:15 pm on Sunday, June 14.

On Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Phil Murphy authorized the re-opening of indoor services at houses of worship, increasing the allowable gathering size from 10 people to 50 people, or 25 percent of the facility’s capacity–whichever is lower. Masks and social distancing will be mandatory under Murphy’s executive order.

Murphy has been relaxing his March 21 stay-at-home order in stages. The state enters phase two on June 15, with modified re-openings of outdoor dining, indoor shopping and childcare centers.

Hair salons, barbershops, nail salons, swimming pools and non-contact sports follow on June 22.  Motor vehicle road tests and licensing resume on June 29, and youth summer camps and outdoor graduations may commence on July 6.

On Tuesday, Murphy said outdoor gatherings can increase from 25 people to 100 people, and the maximum may rise to 250 by June 22 and 500 by July 3. First Amendment-protected gatherings may exceed the 100-person outdoor limit, he said.

The governor has been criticized by state Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-26th Dist.) and fellow Republican lawmakers for attending two weekend Black Lives Matter protests where crowds exceeded his 25-person cap.

In a message to parishioners, Assumption cited a May 18, 2020, mandate from the Most Rev. Arthur Seratelli, apostolic administrator for the Diocese of Paterson, spelling out protocols for reopening.

These include limiting attendance to 25 percent of a church’s seating capacity, with pastors determining who is admitted and how. Social distancing must be maintained, including for the Exchange of Peace.

Everyone over the age of 2 should wear masks; there will be no drinking from the chalice, or singing; hymnals and missalettes will be removed. Parishioners are encouraged to bring hand sanitizer for use when they receive communion. The entire church should be “washed, wiped down, and sanitized” between services.

Special dispensation to stay home will continue for the faithful who fear exposure to the coronavirus. Likewise, live-streaming of Masses should continue.  The mandate does not include a reopening date.

“The Diocese of Paterson has been in close communication with State officials, medical professionals, and the other dioceses of the State. We wish to provide the faithful with access to the liturgical life of the Church while maintaining the public health and safety of the faithful and others with whom they may have contact,” the mandate states.

Monsignor John Hart of Assumption, his staff, and the diocese could not immediately be reached for comment on Tuesday. Assumption has posted a seating chart and attendance policies online.

Tyler Oborn, president of the Morris Area Interfaith Clergy Council, said this is the first reopening of a member church of which he is aware.

Outdoor services for up to 25 persons, and drive-through services, have been allowed across the state.

At least two churches in southern New Jersey have re-opened in defiance of the governor’s orders, and more than two dozen churches are suing the state in a pair of lawsuits.

Those lawsuits claim churches should be allowed to open as “essential services,” and that pandemic restrictions infringe the churches’ constitutional rights.

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