Our Lady of Grace Church Maricopa
The sanctuary of Our Lady of Grace Roman Catholic Church. Holy Communion will be distributed Sunday in an outdoor tent and Masses in the church will resume – with limited capacity – on Pentecost Sunday. Photo by Victor Moreno

President Trump declared churches and other places of worship “essential” on Friday and called on them to open their doors, but at least one Maricopa congregation is taking a measured approach.

Trump stated he would override any governors who do not allow churches to reopen, but it was unclear if he had any real authority to do so.

While Arizona never moved to officially close churches, synagogues and mosques during the governor’s stay at home order to prevent the spread of coronavirus, most followed recommendations and guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many places of worship made their own decisions to close during the pandemic, some taking their services online.

Some city churches found themselves without a place to gather. When it decided to shutter schools, the Maricopa Unified School District canceled contracts with the 11 religious organizations in the city that were renting its facilities for Sunday services and other activities.

At least one Maricopa church was sticking to its plan, despite Trump’s urging.

The Rev. Jay Luczak, pastor at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church, said the president’s declaration has not affected plans to move forward cautiously, and the parish will continue to practice CDC guidelines for adapted worship.

“Our plan has been approved already,” he said. “We have five pages of guidelines we are using to keep everyone safe. We are planning to have Communion outside this Sunday and resuming Mass on Pentecost Sunday (May 31st).”

Holy Communion will be distributed Sunday, the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord, under a tent from 9 to 9:15 a.m. or 11 to 11:15 a.m. for parishioners who have watched the live-streamed Mass, at home, on internet or TV.

Luczak said indoor Masses next weekend will be held from Friday to Monday as gatherings are limited to 80-100 people. The church will sanitize after every service. In addition to live-streaming Masses, the church has offered outdoor confessions.

CDC guidelines ask churches to consider:

  • Spacing out seating for attendees who are not in the same party to at least six feet apart when possible; consider limiting seating to alternate rows.
  • Encourage use of a cloth face covering at all gatherings and when in the building.
  • Adding additional services to the weekly schedule to enhance physical distancing and holding services and gatherings in a large, well-ventilated area or outdoors.
  • Whether gatherings may need to have limited attendance, be held virtually, or suspended if physical distancing is difficult. This includes worship services, funerals, weddings, religious education classes, youth events, support groups, and any other programming.
  • Continuing to live-stream worship services and providing drive-in services.

While excited to see worship in the church building about to start again, Luczak is still apprehensive that things will go back to how they were pre-pandemic.

“Hopefully we’ll get back to normal, but who knows,” he said.