The altar at St. Isidore's Church in Riverhead. File photo: Denise Civiletti

My faith is very important to me. It’s more than an obligation or a list of moral codes. My faith is an expression of a living relationship with a loving and personal God. 

My parents taught me to pray as they took us to church on Sunday and when they tucked us into bed at night. We continued many of the same practices with our own kids — though we definitely omitted the “if I should die before I wake…” part of good night prayers.

Prayer is like breathing for me. After practicing this daily discipline for over 40 years, I feel like prayer is almost a part of my autonomic function, though I’m sure more than a few medical doctors would disagree. 

One of the blessings of this pandemic has been in my prayer life. For some people, not attending church disconnected them from their faith. For me, I found a deeper friendship with God in the quiet. There is simply more time for prayer as I tend to life at home. 

As a cradle Catholic, reading the Bible, prayer rituals and traditions are very important to me, as is the communal celebration of Mass on Sundays and on some mornings during the week. Being absent from the public celebration of the Eucharist — which as a Catholic I believe to be the actual body and blood of Christ — was difficult for sure. But attending Mass online helped to focus my thoughts and prayers and connected us to the universal church. Mass and services online provided a sense of consolation even as we waited to return to our local churches. 

The first time we returned to church in person was in the parking lot of St John Paul ll Regional School in Riverhead, where priests from St. Isidore’s Church offered two Masses, while others were going on in the church. The additional services  accommodated more people and respected NYS regulations for capacity and social distancing. 

It was a very safe transition from the security of home  and truly was a joyful celebration. We recieved communion standing outside the car while my daughter sat in the car and received through an open window.

St Isidore’s offered us so much during the quarantine time: a daily bible study and  YouTube recordings of all the masses which really helped to support our practice of the faith. 

After celebrating Easter at home, we officially became members of the parish.

The first time I took my daughter Jo into the church building for Mass, I was a little panicked. 

But the taping on the pews, and the signs reminding parishioners to wear masks and social distance all helped to ease my anxiety as a Catholic mom raising a young adult with disabilities who is also medically fragile. 

We use the handicap entrance and sit in the front pews. When communion is distributed, a minister of the Eucharist comes directly to us. This allows me to assist Johanna with her mask without the concerns of balance and confusion over this new way of attending Mass and receiving Holy Communion.

I’m comfortable here because there’s a balance of protective protocols, accommodations for special needs and state regulations, without infringing on our rights to the public exercise of faith.

The discrepancy between NYS regulations for church gatherings and the seemingly preferential treatment of other gatherings without limits (mainly protests in and around NYC) led to a court case in which a federal judge ruled that NYS was unfairly limiting religious gatherings — setting a precedent for future challenges to imposed restrictions.

Some churches require participants to register online before attending services. For some churches, it’s the easiest way they can control the number of people who attend. 

For other churches, registrations provide a means to contact people if an outbreak should occur in the church community. While I am certain that concern for others is utmost in the mind of church leaders, I strongly disagree. 

If there were to be an outbreak of COVID in a church community, the alerts could be easily shared via email and social media — or for those with less online presence, a phone chain or mailing would suffice. 

Many churches are offering services outside, or adding services and roping off chairs and pews to ensure social distancing. 

Ironically, it would appear that such lists imposed by the churches themselves are actually an infringement of that very right to the free exercise of religion for which we are fighting to balance in this pandemic time. 

If we can go shopping without signing in, I believe we can manage our church services in a way which balances safety and the free exercise of religion.

Some people are not yet ready to attend a worship service in public. I totally understand and, honestly, we are always evaluating our plans week to week. We are grateful that we still have the option of attending Mass online. But since we are still under pretty strict protocols at home, attending church, with all the safety protocols in place, is a very welcome support for us as people of faith. 

The pandemic has caused us all to pause.

Hopefully in this time of pause, you have reconnected with yourself, your family and God. 

But if you’ve lost touch with your faith, maybe now is the best time to come home. Though our dealings in the larger community may still be at a distance, God is never far away and always ready to say, “Welcome home.”

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Eileen Benthal
Eileen is a writer, speaker and wellness coach with a bachelor’s degree in theology from Franciscan University. She and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Email Eileen