The doors of NAS Patuxent River’s St. Nicholas Chapel were literally thrown open July 26 as Chaplain Lt. Clay Hamrick and Religious Program Specialist 2nd Class Joseph Mojica welcomed back a small group of worshippers for their first in-person service since the COVID-19 shutdown.
“[In an effort to combat the spread of the virus] we had a separate entrance and exit strategy in place,” Mojica explained, “but since there weren’t too many people in attendance at the service, we didn’t need to use it. Instead, we had the doors propped open so no one touched them.”
Reducing touch points is just one strategy to help keep the congregation safe. Prior to the service, staff sanitized the chapel and marked off the pews so patrons — 13 of the usual 35-40 normally in attendance — would be properly distanced.
“Everyone wore a face covering, as required, and I screened all 13 people with a laser thermometer and questionnaire before they entered,” Mojica said. “Instead of handling booklets, we projected all songs and readings onto a screen. We also have a drop box in front of the chapel for donations now rather than passing around an offering plate.”
Having held virtual services for weeks, that remote option continued as others participated in the service via a telephone conference call.
Going forward, as more and more people feel confident gathering in the chapel, Hamrick and Mojica will continue following safety guidelines.
“We’ve marked off the first two pews for specific services, such as the Roman Catholic rosary, which meets at 11:30 a.m. each Thursday,” Mojica noted. “And Chaps and I will work with the base to wipe everything down afterward and do a deep cleaning after each service. I’m used to a ship and cleaning about a half hour every day, so it’s pretty much the same for me.”
Men’s and women’s bible studies continue to be virtual for the time being and fellowship gatherings, such as the bi-monthly luncheon after Sunday services, are still on hold; but overall, everyone is happy to slowly return to being able to congregate.
“Those in attendance were excited to come back and see each other again and practice their faith,” Mojica added. “They also mentioned they felt better knowing there was a plan in place for screening and social distancing. It felt good seeing everyone come back together and how happy they were. It’s been a bit quiet with no one around.”