Houston-area churches prepping for parishioners to return, changes in store for members

THE WOODLANDS – Houston-area churches are preparing the music, the pews, the signs, and the digital instructions for parishioners, who have been away for weeks to return to mass Sunday.

St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in The Woodlands is one of the dozens of Catholic churches in the Houston area preparing to welcome back members this weekend. But parishioners will experience some noticeable changes.

For starters, St. Anthony of Padua is requiring parishioners to reserve tickets online. Like businesses across Texas, churches must operate at 25% capacity in Phase 1 of Gov. Greg Abbott's reopening plan.

"People can get online and reserve, much like they buy a ticket," said pastor Father Tom Rafferty. "Well, we're not charging at all."

Parishioners will also have to practice safe social distancing. The Lord's Supper will consist of only bread, no wine, and the bread will be celebrated hand-to-hand as opposed to hand-to-mouth.

The church's pastor said many will be happy to return to church, changes and all.

"The live streaming is nice," said Rafferty. "But you can't replace that personal interaction, not just with people in the congregation but with Jesus. And that's an important thing."

Families will be allowed to sit together, but groups and individuals will have to sit six feet apart. Staff will also be sanitizing the church between masses. They will have hand sanitizer stationed around the building, but people also are encouraged to bring their own.

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