Churches around the city are carefully planning for the near future when they are allowed to reopen their doors. All Saints is planning a very limited reopening on July 1, but that doesn’t necessarily mean business as usual.
“We never closed, we were always open for business,” says the Rev. Dr. Norman Whitmire, who has led All Saints Episcopal since moving from their home in Richmond Hill to the former St. Matthews Episcopal Church at 84-45 96th Street in 2013.
But it was a difficult time, not only for the parishioners of All Saints but for everyone that attends the more than 6,000 formal and informal churches and places of worship in New York City.
“The hardest thing we had to deal with when COVID-19 hit was that the place that people turn to when they need solace and reassurance was the very place they couldn’t go,” Rev. Whitmire said. “So we began streaming our masses over YouTube from home twice a week, right from my dining room table. It was difficult at first, especially for some of our parishioners who weren’t used to using technology.
“We have some parishioners who are in their 90s and the adjustment was not easy,” he added.
But with the help of some of their children and grandchildren, soon all of All Saints parishioners were not only enjoying masses and weekday morning prayer services, but they were also keeping up with their bible study classes via Zoom.”
There was a period of adjustment, but Rev. Whitmire was very happy with the results.
“Our attendance has grown and now really exceeds the number of people we were getting for our in-person masses,” he says. “Where we used to get 40 to 50 people each Sunday, we’re now getting somewhere between 60 and 100 people joining our services online every week.”
And when churches eventually fully reopen and things get back to normal, Rev. Whitmire expects that the online component of their masses with remain in the mix, perhaps even permanently complementing the live sermons.
So with the church making plans for the future, the timing was perfect for the Procession of the Blessed Sacrament on Corpus Christi Sunday.
As they made their way down Jamaica Avenue and through the streets of Woodhaven, people stopped and watched the procession, many of them bowing their heads for a moment of silence as they passed.
Even a slightly rowdy group of men hanging around outside of one of the delis on the other side of Jamaica Avenue grew silent as the group walked by.
“We do this to make a statement of the presence of God through Jesus Christ in the midst of all the troubles and all the worries and civil rights tensions that we are living through,” Rev. Whitmire said. “The procession is a statement that God is there to comfort and guide us,, and we do this to be respectful and loving to one another as human beings. No matter who you are, you are loved, you deserve respect and you matter.”
Along with the sunshine and a number of stores reopening and more and more people making their way outside, the Procession of the Blessed Sacrament on Corpus Christi Sunday was yet another sign that ready or not, life in Woodhaven and New York City is cautiously starting to get back to some sense of normalcy.