Shawna Kim arrived Sunday at Hawaii Central Presbyterian Church in the back of Manoa Valley, a few minutes ahead of her first in-person church service since services were canceled two months ago by the state lockdown to stop the new coronavirus.
“Finally, we made it,” said Kim, who had been watching online services and keeping in touch with fellow members by text message. “I’m kind of excited to see everybody.”
Kim was wearing a mask, as all members were required to do, and brought her two sons, Sean and Robin Ok, for Sunday school.
The Korean church reopened following Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s Thursday order allowing in-person religious services to resume. Despite Caldwell allowing churches to reopen Saturday, many remained closed this weekend because of the short turnaround for putting safety measures in place to protect worshippers from the virus.
Photo Gallery: Oahu churches begin to reopen for Sunday services
Hawaii Central Senior Pastor Kenneth Kang said his church’s last in-person service was March 15, and some members had been eagerly awaiting their return, prompting church staff and volunteers to hasten to get the church ready for the weekend.
At the 8:30 Sunday morning service, a service typically for the older members, dozens were in attendance despite church leaders encouraging them to consider whether they should attend and letting them know it was OK to watch an online stream from home.
“It shows that they were hungry and they were thirsty (to return),” Kang said. “It was really wonderful. People were really grateful to be back.”
Masks and hand sanitizer were available for attendees inside the church. In addition, tape on the pews marked off the required physical distance, with two marks every other row and one mark in between those rows.
Kang said it was important for members to have in-person services.
“We can always worship on our own, at home,” he said. “But also there’s another component in our Christian faith that we’re supposed to gather together and share each others’ lives together.”
“Even in a limited way, if we’re able to gather together, it’s a huge boost to our spirituality,” he said.
Because of the short notice for reopening, Hawaii’s Roman Catholic churches in the state’s 66 parishes didn’t open this past weekend, said Honolulu Bishop Larry Silva.
“We just felt we weren’t quite prepared with all of the social distancing and the sanitizing precaution that we’re going to have to take,” he told the Honolulu Star- Advertiser on Sunday. “We decided next week is when we’ll open.”
Each of the parishes will decide how many people their churches can hold with social-distancing measures in place, and whether they will need to add services to accommodate those wanting to attend, he said.
About two weeks ago Silva sent a memo to priests in the Honolulu Diocese, asking them to make plans for how they will control the number of attendees to avoid turning people away at the door. Some suggestions included issuing tickets or having people sign up beforehand. St. Catherine’s in Kapaa has set up a website for members to sign up for service, and those without internet can call and the church will add them to the list, Silva said.
St. Patrick in Kaimuki was planning to open today for weekday Mass, but the rest of the churches will open Saturday night or Sunday, Silva added.
Masks and social distancing will be required when the churches reopen.
Silva has released parishioners from the obligation to attend Mass through June 30, but still many are clamoring to return.
“People are very hungry for the Eucharist, for Holy Communion,” he said. “They have missed it a great deal, and so I think they will be very happy that we are reopening next weekend.” The Eucharist is a ceremony commemorating the Last Supper when bread and wine are consecrated and consumed.
Hawaii has about 220,000 Catholics.
Silva said Communion will be offered, but with prerequisites, such as requiring those giving Communion to wear a mask and to sanitize their hands before and — if they feel their hands have became contaminated — while delivering the Eucharist.
During the coronavirus lockdown, parishes in Hawaii livestreamed Mass, and will continue doing so when in-person services resumes for those who do not feel comfortable attending.
On Kauai, churches were given approval to reopen last week, while in-person services are expected to be allowed by the end of the week on Maui. On Hawaii island, churches will be allowed to reopen June 1.
Meanwhile, a couple dozen people gathered at the state Capitol on Sunday to rally for reopening Hawaii businesses and churches.
One person waved an upside-down U.S. flag, while another held a sign that said, “Stop the communist mandated recession now!”
Bill Comerford — owner of O’Toole’s Irish Pub, Anna O’Brien’s, Kelley O’Neil’s and the Irish Rose Saloon — joined the rally with a sign that said in part, “Governor Ige is killing my businesses.”
He said he’s falling $600,000 in debt and needs to know when the government will allow bars like his to reopen before he is willing to obtain another loan.
“The governor hasn’t even said if they will open in July or August or December or Christmas,” he said. “They owe us an answer and they’re not providing it.”
He said he has 80 employees and had zero debt March 1. He received a $580,000 loan from the federal coronavirus relief act that is paying for his rent and utilities and that will run out by June 30.
“July is my limit,” he said. “If I can’t open in July, I’m closing.”
Star-Advertiser photographer Dennis Oda contributed to this story.