A Catholic parish in Stow is taking a novel approach to safely serve Holy Communion as Ohio churches prepare to reopen, thanks to a Cuyahoga Falls company.
A parishioner at Holy Family has worked with parish staff to come up with a way to not ensure not only the safety of worshipers receiving Communion, but also that of the priests and Eucharistic Ministers serving it.
Catholic bishops in Ohio gave permission for public Mass to resume as early as May 25, but they cautioned that it will look and sound a lot different than parishioners will remember.
For example, the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland issued guidelines last week saying that choirs and public singing are not permitted during indoor Masses over concerns of spreading the virus. And, attendance must be limited to a maximum of 50 percent of a church’s usual capacity. Social distancing directives also must be followed.
Those who attend Mass will be expected to wear a mask, which they can remove only to receive Communion.
And this is where things get tricky for ministers.
Father Paul J. Rosing, pastor at Holy Family, said that, since the Sycamore Drive church’s worship space is fan-shaped, they will be able to allow 50 percent attendance of what the space can fit (around 800) and maintain the required social distance between families.
But, Rosing said, it is impossible to serve Communion to the faithful from six feet away.
So, thanks to a bit of ingenuity on the part of Dave Soulsby, owner of Central Graphics in Cuyahoga Falls, the church has what Rosing calls "safety screens" for communion ministers.
Each wall-like structure is made of clear acrylic and has a small slot through which the priest or minister may reach to place a communion host onto the recipient’s hand.
Rosing admitted it may all seem a bit strange, but said safety is paramount as many in his congregation are "excited" to finally return to Mass. Ohio’s bishops canceled public celebration of services in mid-March to prevent the spread of the virus.
But not everyone is ready to return to church just yet, Rosing said, and that’s OK as Catholics are dispensed from attending Mass amid the worldwide pandemic.
"I’m glad we are opening," he said. "But we are all a bit nervous given the situation."
Joseph L. Kist, who works at Central Graphics, said this is all a bit different for the company, too. Typically they work with clients on signs, displays and graphics — not virus guards.
When the coronavirus hit and the governor ordered businesses shuttered and schools closed, roughly half the company’s 11-employee workforce was laid off.
This led to some creative, "out-of-the-box" thinking, Kist said, to find new uses for products and materials they had on hand.
The company had a stockroom full of clear plastic acrylic that it would typically use to make durable signs.
Kist said they began using the material to make so-called sneeze guards to shield workers from customers at everything from a cash register at a gas station to a chair at a nail salon.
As Ohio’s businesses slowly reopen, Kist said, they are adapting the uses for the guards, and churches are the latest to explore ways to use these safety shields.
The lightweight shields can easily be moved and can even come equipped with wheels — so they can be used by ushers handing out material, collecting weekly offerings and distributing communion.
Business has become so brisk, Kist said, that all the employees have been called back to work and they have even hired an additional designer.
His own church, First Baptist Church of Akron, is incorporating some of the company’s new products, ranging from stickers on the floor reminding of social distancing to hand sanitizer stations.
"These new products have been a blessing," he said. "We are bursting at the seams with new work."
Craig Webb can be reached at email@example.com.