Some Religious Services Begin Again on the South Fork

The Rev. Jim Erwin chose to resume public services at St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in an outdoor space under a tent. Courtesy of St. Ann’s Episcopal Church

Religious services on the East End are slowly regaining a semblance of normalcy, but there is still concern about the spread of the novel coronavirus, especially with spikes in other areas of the country.

Many faith-based leaders are still taking precautions, even as a federal judge blocked New York State from enforcing COVID-19 restrictions that limit indoor and outdoor religious gatherings. Judge Gary Sharpe enjoined Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Attorney General Letitia James from enforcing some of the capacity restrictions put in place by executive order to contain the spread of the virus in a decision on June 26. Two Catholic priests from upstate New York and three Orthodox Jewish congregants from Brooklyn brought the suit, arguing that the restrictions violated their First Amendment rights to practice their religion.

The Department of Justice called the decision “a win for religious freedom and the civil liberties of New Yorkers.”

The Jewish Center of the Hamptons is among those returning to a traditional service — at the beach, where leaders feel they can maintain social distancing while still gathering. The Jewish Center’s summer tradition of Shabbat on the Beach service begins Friday night at 6.

“We made our decision to return to the beach based on consulting with health experts and following the CDC safety guidelines,” Rabbi Josh Franklin said Thursday by email. “We will not take any measures because we legally can, but rather because we feel that they are safe and in accordance with protecting public health. We are asking people who are in attendance to wear masks, and we will be setting up social distance rings in the sand so that families can distance safely from one another.”

Prayer cards can be downloaded in advance for view on a mobile device. For those unable to attend Shabbat on the Beach in person, the Jewish Center will also live stream the event on Facebook. Visit jcoh.org/beach for more information.

For the time being, the Jewish Center’s building remains closed.

Over the past month, the Jewish Center instead held a drive-in Shabbat service, where members sat in their cars. Social distancing will still be maintained, but the services will continue on the beach through Labor Day. “Find your spot in the sand and join the Jewish Center of the Hamptons community in singing, dancing, and celebrating the joys of a magical Shabbat experience.”

In Bridgehampton, St. Ann’s Episcopal Church will return to public worship on Saturday, July 5. Three services will be held on Saturday mornings outside under a tent, on the church’s lawn.

The July schedule of holy communion services includes one without music at 8 a.m., and services with music at 9:30 and 11 a.m.. Reservations are required for each service by calling the church office at 631-537-1527 by Friday at 2 p.m.

The Rev. Jim Erwin, who has been taping a sermon for parishioners each week, said he is conducting services outside as “an added measure of safety” for fresh air circulation. Folding chairs will be spaced out under the tent, he said. “Fresh air and masks will keep us safe,” he said Thursday, adding that he is taking precautions to keep the communion safe. He will be passing out mini-cups and wearing gloves.

Most Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church in East Hampton has also gradually been returning to business as usual. Mass is said in the Parish Hall on Saturdays at 5 p.m., and Sunday mornings at 7, 9:30, and 11:30 a.m. There is also a Mass in Spanish at 7 p.m..

Father Ryan Creamer said each week, since Mass has resumed at the beginning of June, the numbers have increased and social distancing inside the Parish Hall has not been a problem.

The Rabbi Daniel Geffen at Temple Adas Israel in Sag Harbor said he has no plans to resume in-person services this summer, “unless there are very dramatic positive changes.”

The bottom line, he said, is “we won’t risk the health or safety of our community.” The online services the temple has been providing have been well attended, perhaps with even more attendance than usual. “Not to say we won’t go back to in person a soon as possible!,” he said. “Just that, especially now, especially as we are seeing many clusters of infections happening in houses of worship where they have opened, we do not think it is right — for us — to open, at least not in the current situation.”

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