MARIETTA — When in mid March COVID-19 began shutting the doors of school buildings, businesses and restaurants, churches too had to figure out how they could continue offering services in an era of social distancing.

As the economy has slowly begun to reopen, Saint Joseph Catholic Church in Marietta is among the churches where parishioners can return to in-person services.

Saint Joseph’s Monsignor John Walsh said his church’s first in-person Mass after more than two months was held on Memorial Day and saw about 70 worshipers. Since then, the church has scheduled daily opportunities for church-goers to return to Mass.

Walsh said for now, the church is requiring its worshipers to wear masks, and every other row of pews will be roped off to help keep attendees 6 feet apart, per social distancing rules. That means the sanctuary, which could normally accommodate 750 visitors, will be capped at 200 for the time being.

“That’s what we’re thinking right now is all we can do,” Walsh said.

If visitors do not have a mask, one will be provided to them and staff will also be wearing masks, he said. Worshipers will also be asked to take their temperatures and thoroughly sanitize their hands before attending church, he said. Hand sanitizer will be available in the building.

With about 40% Spanish-speaking parishioners, Walsh said Masses will be offered in English and Spanish throughout the scheduled gatherings.

The church is taking reservations for those who would like to attend Mass, and Walsh said it has also waived its Sunday Mass obligation to help spread visitors out throughout the week.

The Sunday Mass offerings are as follows:

♦ 7 a.m. Mass in English

♦ 9 a.m. Mass in English

♦ 11 a.m. Mass in English

♦ 1 p.m. Mass in Spanish

♦ 3 p.m. Mass in Spanish

♦ 5:30 p.m. Life Teen Mass

Masses will also be offered at 8 a.m. and noon, Monday through Friday, and 7 p.m. weekday Mass will be held in Spanish. Saturday services are also being held at 5:30 p.m. in English and 7:30 p.m. in Spanish.

The church is also hosting socially distanced confessions on Saturdays at 9 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. or in Spanish at 6 p.m. A confession can also be scheduled with a priest.

Walsh said he is also encouraging elderly, frail or medically fragile parishioners to stay home and continue watching services online, as they have been over the past two months. He said parents with young children are being encouraged to watch the live streams as well, or to attend a weekday service.

The 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Sunday Masses will be live-streamed, he added.

“I know they want to come, but I’m encouraging them to stay home on Sunday,” he said Thursday, adding that he’d be holding a Mass at noon where he hoped to see families. “They can come and bring their children to that Mass, because something that I hear people say is, ‘I really miss receiving Communion.’ So in order to allow some of those people who have been yearning to receive the Lord, I’m asking people with younger children to come during the day, during the week.”

Communion will be given to parishioners in their hands, instead of directly into their mouths, and that will be the only time worshipers should remove the masks, he added.

Walsh said it was strange to see the parking lot empty over the past weeks of closures, and he looks forward to bringing members back to the church. He said the church chose to reopen because it had been watching businesses and other areas of the economy reopen, and because Pentecost Sunday, this year on May 31, marks an important Christian holiday.

He also said bishops met with the consultors of the diocese, and received their input on reopening. Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta recently announced that, barring any medical concerns on the part of priests’ health, “attendance at daily Mass may begin Monday, May 25, on an announced schedule.”

“We’re trying as much as we can to see that this is done safely,” Walsh said.

To reserve a spot for in-person Mass, visit bit.ly/3dcHsa6.

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