‘So surprised and so disappointed’: How local places of worship will handle reopening

HOUSTON – Several Houston religious leaders and congregations shared how they will handle services after Gov. Greg Abbott lifts the mask mandate and reopen Texas 100%.

Would they stick to what they’ve been doing or make changes to protocols in place? Many said they aren’t changing anything anytime soon.

Inside Congregation Beth Israel of Houston, the temple and its seats remain empty more often than not. Before COVID-19, services would attract thousands. But now, the max is about 50.

“We are open very limited so some families and congregants,” said Pam Kutner, executive director of Congregation Beth Israel.

The congregation has monthly meetings to go over any possible protocol changes.

And after hearing Abbott’s announcement of lifting the statewide mask mandate, many were not happy.

“We were so surprised and so disappointed by the announcement. We are definitely not changing what we’ve been doing. We have the health survey when you come, we require masks,” Kutner said.

At the largest religious community in the Houston area, the Islamic Society of Greater Houston also meets regularly with their task force that includes frontline health care professionals.

“We listen to them, we listen to their advice, their expert advice, for the way the board of directors will make decisions on which way to go,” said Ayman Kabire, president of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston.

When you enter the mosque, guidelines are posted on a large television screen, which include wearing facemasks, bringing your own prayer mat and physically distancing during prayer.

Kabire said there are no plans to change any safety guidelines at this point.

“All those are meant to ensure that we are practicing one of our main stays as an organization and that is the safety of the congregation,” Kabire said.

At Houston’s First Baptist Church, members will continue to experience reduced seating, they will be required to wear masks at services and bible study classes and continue distancing.

“Right now we are as is. We have a leadership team meeting early next week for our monthly meeting where we will talk about that in detail. You have to stop, reevaluate, adjust and see what makes sense for your organization,” said Steven Murray, director of communications at Houston’s First Baptist Church.

Lakewood church said it will continue to follow recommended health and safety guidelines. It will continue to request that attendees were masks and practice social distancing. Church officials said capacity has not been an issue however they will monitor it as they expect attendance to increase.

The Archdiocese of Galveston says it is “currently reviewing pandemic protocols in light of the governor’s new executive order.”