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FRAMINGHAM – In March, Governor Charlie Baker said he did one of the hardest things by closing houses of worship to people during the pandemic when they needed their faith and their religious leaders the most.

That is why when the state began its re-opening plan in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, religious institutions and houses of worship were the first granted approval to re-open in mid-May.

But the re-opening came with very strict guidelines, which included:

  • All places of worship shall limit occupancy to 40 percent of the building’s maximum permitted occupancy level. The occupant count shall include all persons inside the place of worship, including attendees and staff.
  • Attendees were required to wear masks.
  • Attendees who are not part of the same immediate household must be seated at least 6 feet apart.
  • Places of worship are encouraged to arrange online sign-up for services in advance in order to monitor and limit the number of attendees

On Wednesday, Framingham was designated one of 9 high-risk communities in the Commonwealth for the COVID-19.

The City’s Health Director Sam Wong has said repeatedly that the increase in cases is coming from gatherings, and SOURCE has learned from Commonwealth of Massachusetts and local sources that some of the latest Framingham Coronavirus cases are tied to religious gatherings.

SOURCE has asked the City of Framingham to release its contact tracing information, but the City has refused to do so, as of last week.

But in talking to state and local sources, the news outlet has learned that several churches are not following the state’s guidelines during COVID, and the City of Framingham is doing nothing to enforce the guidelines at these houses of worship during the weekends.

And even the churches that are following the rules, the patrons seem to be breaking the rules once in the church’s parking lots after the services.

On weekends, there large groups of people, many not wearing masks, outside St. Stephen’s Catholic Church and Hope Apostolic Church in downtown Framingham.

At Saint Stephen’s, SOURCE observed parishioners wearing masks when they came outside the church but then gathered with other families, without masks in the parking lots.

SOURCE also observed several other smaller churches in the City with parishioners leaving without masks.

And Hope Apostolic Church aired a video of its service last night, August 29, with several not wearing masks. (Photo from the live stream is the lead photo for this report). The video below, posted by the church on its Facebook page, also shows singers without masks.

A May 12 report from the Centers for Disease Control indicted the “act of singing” probably helped spread coronavirus during a March 10 choir practice at a church in Washington State.

The CDC recommended suspending or decreasing singing during religious ceremonies. “The act of singing may contribute to transmission of COVID-19, possibly through emission of aerosols,” read the agency’s guidelines, posted on May 22.

For that reason, the Archdiocese of Boston discouraged choir singing, and two Episcopal dioceses of Massachusetts prohibited congregational singing.

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SOURCE can not confirm specific churches that Framingham cases are tied, to as the City will not release its contract tracing information, but state and local sources did confirm that churches have been tied to some of the most recent cases in the City of Framingham.

Catholic Churches were given additional guidelines to follow in addition to the state’s guidelines in re-opening by the archdiocese.

This included having those who attend Mass to pre-register, so that the church knew who was at each service, to assist with contact tracing, and to limit the number of attendees.

Saint Stephen’s Church is at capacity for its services today at 10;30 a.m. with 100 individuals. About 100 individuals attended the 7 p.m. Mass last night at St. Stephen’s Church.

The Roman Catholic Church offers five Masses per weekend. An English Mass at 4 p.m. and a 7 p.m. Spanish Mass on Saturdays and a 9 a.m. English Mass and a 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Masses in Spanish on Sundays

Some churches when the state’s guidelines came out continued to hold virtual or online services, and some churches held outdoor services with 6 feet distancing this summer.

But while the pews in the church were to be blocked off to limit capacity and to separate families, not all of the city’s churches are following these guidelines,

SOURCE has learned not all attendees are wearing masks at some of the City’s smaller churches too, and the Spicer administration does not seem to be enforcing the state guidelines.

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SOURCE asked the Spicer administration What specifically has the City been doing to inform churches of the regulations? and What specifically has the City done to enforce the regulations at these churches?

No response has been received.

Saint Bridget is one church that has not been tied to any of the new cases in the City of Framingham, however even it has struggled with large gatherings in the parking lots as it checks in families for each Mass during the weekend. But the families have been good wearing masks while waiting to get inside the church and staying 6 feet apart from each other, while in line.

Father Paco at Saint Stephen’s Church created a video to help parishioners with the new guidelines.

To avoid spreading the virus, many of the City’s churches and temples are still offering remote or online services.

St. Andrew Episcopal Church decided not to have any “in-person worship, gatherings, fellowship or meetings through the summertime.” Livestreamed Sunday services are filmed at the home of Rev. Carson.

While Plymouth Church could hold services, it also chose not to return to live services.

“At this time, while it might be theoretically possible to hold worship safely in the Sanctuary, we have concluded that the scope and severity of restrictions required would not allow us to offer a meaningful, equitable worship experience for the whole congregation. Keeping a safe distance would limit the number of families we could allow to 10-15. There would be no singing, no Passing the Peace, no Sacraments, no Offering plates, no Faith Workshop, no bulletins, and no social gatherings afterward,” said the church leadership.

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“We understand that continuing to worship online puts a strain on our relationships,” said the church leaders to the parishioners.

Temple Beth Am also continues to offer its Shabbat Services every Friday night online as well, to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

First Parish in Framingham, a Unitarian Universalist Church, also offers online services and not in-person, due to the virus.

For a list of the state of guidelines on houses of worship, click here.

Editor’s Note: In full transparency, my family is a member of Saint Bridget parish.

By editor

Susan Petroni is the former editor for SOURCE. She is the founder of the former news site, which as of May 1, 2023, is now a self-publishing community bulletin board. The website no longer has a journalist but a webmaster.