QUINCY -- Sunday mornings are beginning to have more of a familiar feel to worshipers, including at Columbus Road Church.
"It will take time, and it will be different," said the Rev. Bob Cowman, who has served as pastor at Columbus Road since 2004.
An independent church that sits tucked away inside the city's northeast corner, Columbus Road is one of numerous churches across the region beginning to ease its way toward whatever the new normal holds during the ongoing pandemic tied to the COVID-19 coronavirus.
"This is the first time I've talked to (this many people) live since the middle of March," Cowman told his congregation -- or rather a fraction of it, at three different intervals Sunday morning, afternoon and evening.
Columbus Road held three Sunday services and will soon expand to five, all while maintaining proper health-related protocols. Cowman, who noted all areas of the church are disinfected following each usage period, also said services are being live-streamed for those who may not feel comfortable to attend in person.
Illinois relaxed its restrictions on churches May 28 after Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh ordered the state to respond to three lawsuits brought by various churches around the state. At that time, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said that the state's public health department would be issuing "guidance, not mandatory restrictions" for faith leaders to hold religious services, loosening the state's restrictions on religious gatherings during the pandemic.
"We're just happy to be able to come together," Cowman said.
Cowman said Columbus Road and its congregation of 350 has been respectful -- and will continue be -- of all governmental guidelines. He said he has never felt the outlines were any type of persecution.
"This (was) not restricting religious freedom," Cowman said. "This is an opportunity like never before for the church to speak."
More churches are expected to reopen next weekend (June 6 to 7) under certain restrictions. That includes Catholic parishes in Illinois within the Diocese of Springfield. Bishop Thomas John Paprocki said public Masses will be able to be celebrated, but with some restrictions:
º Attendance will be limited to 25% of the capacity of the worship space.
º Proper safe distancing will be maintained.
º Diocesan staff has been be preparing a training and certification process to prepare parishes to open public Masses with proper precautions, including detailed cleaning protocols and communication plans to parishioners.
º Parishes will be required to have a parish response team, which will need to attend a mandatory training webinar and submit a readiness checklist for certification prior to being able to celebrate public Masses.
"As Christian citizens, Catholics of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois have made a profound and consequential sacrifice for the sake of the greater good by foregoing the most sacred sacrament of our faith -- the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass," Paprocki said in a release from the diocese. "We have done so with particular concern to do our part in preventing a surge in hospitalizations that may have overwhelmed health system capacity and out of concern for the most vulnerable among us.
"We have all done our best to unite in prayer and acts of spiritual communion during this time, offering this sacrifice for the good of our neighbor. It is now time for the church to return to the proper practice of the faith and celebration of Mass, which we will do responsibly and safely, with proper preparation, precautions, and safe distancing."
The 25% capacity suggestion for any singular service will affect different churches in different ways, Cowman feels.
"At each church, 25% is different," he said.
A mid-sized church like Columbus Road, where the sanctuary holds about 200, means about 50 can attend a service under current guidelines. At larger area churches like the Crossing, Madison Park Christian or St. Peter, that 25% could equal hundreds of worshipers.