Chicago’s Black churches struggling to reopen as restrictions ease

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Crusader Staff Report

With the lowest vaccination rates in the city, churches in Chicago’s Black neighborhoods are struggling to reopen for in-person Sunday worship service while the city raises capacity limits as part of its effort to fully reopen by July 4.

According to a Crusader review of data, many Black churches in the city will still be closed by that date. After verifying data from websites through phone calls, the Crusader compiled a list of 21 major Black churches on the city’s South and West sides. The Crusader found that most of them remain closed and continue to offer worship services online. In addition, many have not announced when they will return to in-person Sunday worship.

Of the 21 churches, the Crusader found that only seven have reopened for in-person worship service and four that are still closed have announced their reopening date.

Black houses of worship that have reopened with health and safety protocols include Saint Sabina Church in Auburn Gresham, Apostolic Faith Church and Olivet Baptist Church in Bronzeville, Apostolic Church of God in Woodlawn, Saint Philip Neri Catholic Church in South Shore, Friendship Baptist Church of Chicago in Austin, New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church in West Garfield Park, and Christ Universal Temple in Morgan Park.

In addition to in-person services, these churches continue to offer Sunday worship service online as an alternative option.

Four churches have set a date on reopening for in-person worship.

In Woodlawn, New Beginnings Church will reopen on June 20 with a special Father’s Day worship service that will be held outside, across the street from its main building. Bronzeville’s Quinn Chapel, the oldest Black church in the city, has set July 18 as its tentative reopening date.

In Chatham, New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church is scheduled to resume in-person worship services this weekend on May 30. In South Shore, the massive All World Nations Assembly Church has begun accepting registrations for its three-day reunion that will start on June 25 to mark its 17th Anniversary.

Two prominent Black churches, Trinity United Church of Christ in Washington Heights and Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church in Bronzeville have not set a date on reopening.

Most of the reopened churches have implemented health and safety protocols that include registering before attendance in addition to masks and social distancing.

Saint Sabina has been holding two in-person worship services on Saturday and Sunday since last August, four months before the city began vaccinating residents during the coronavirus pandemic. Residents must register each Monday by calling the church office or clicking on an online link.

Registrations for Saint Sabina’s May 30 Sunday in-person worship service were fully booked and no longer available by Monday morning on May 24.

Registration slots are expected to go fast for the June 6 Sunday in-person worship service when Father Michael Pfleger returns after being reinstated this week, six months after he was removed from the parish following sexual abuse allegations.

Before attending in-person worship services, guests and members at Apostolic Faith Church in Bronzeville must complete a COVID-19 Wellness Survey that asks if they experience any symptoms of the disease. The survey also asks if the attendee has been vaccinated, but guests have the option of not answering that question. Saint Sabina has a similar survey.

Two zip codes that have the highest vaccination rates in the Black community include churches that have not reopened.

They include 60616 in Bronzeville, where 52.6 percent of the residents have been vaccinated. In that zip code, two of the city’s oldest Black churches, Quinn Chapel and Olivet Baptist Church, are still closed for in-person worship. In zip code 60609, where 43.8 percent of residents have been vaccinated, the iconic Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church remains closed for in-person worship, as does the historic Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ.

The congregations of many Black churches are comprised of mostly senior members who are reluctant to return to in-person worship services even as health risks dwindle.

Some of the churches that have reopened are in zip codes that have the lowest vaccination rates in the city.

With faith and wisdom, they have taken strict precautions to protect the safety of those attending their Sunday worship services. In zip code 60624 in West Garfield Park, the vaccination rate as of May 25 was among the lowest in Chicago at 32.2 percent. But that’s not stopping New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church from holding in-person worship services with mask and social distancing protocols in place.

The vaccination rate is even lower in South Shore’s 60649 zip code, where Saint Philip Neri Catholic has reopened its doors for in-person services. In addition to masks and social distancing, guests and members must register by phone before attending Sunday service.

Since April, the megachurch Christ Universal Church near Morgan Park has been holding outdoor, drive-in worship services on its site on the fourth Sunday of each month.

In Woodlawn, the reopened Apostolic Church of God holds two in-person Sunday worship services at 9:10 a.m. and 11:40 a.m. Masks and social distancing are required.

Chicago is in the Bridge Phase of the pandemic, where capacity limits on stadiums, restaurants, gyms, movie theaters and other indoor venues have been raised as infections and positive coronavirus rates fall to record lows. The capacity limit for churches in Chicago stands at 60 percent.

With major festivals returning this summer, many believe the pandemic is winding down in the city. Earlier this month, the city followed a new recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that indicates masks are not required indoors or outdoors for those who have been fully vaccinated. But many churches and businesses in the city’s Black community still have mask policies in effect as a precaution.

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