By Stephanie Melo
Beyond the week leading up to Easter Sunday, several sacraments of the church such as baptisms, first communions and even weddings will be put on hold as per the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, the administrative unit of the church, due to the outbreak of COVID-19.
After social distancing regulations proposed by New York Gov. Cuomo were enforced on March 20, children could no longer continue with their religion classes to prepare them for their first communion, a ritual scheduled in late April to early May, to not conflict with Easter Sunday, church authorities said.
“If the children miss the rest of this month, they will have now missed 6 hours-worth of class that would totally prepare them for that first communion,” Deacon Sonny Pagnotta of St. Frances Cabrini church, said.
The first holy communion is where the candidate receives the sacrament of the Eucharist for the first time. Multiple families of the church gather in worship and typically for separate festivities after.
“I was planning on having an outdoor party after [my daughter’s] baptism,” Stephanie Haufsk, a local Suffolk County churchgoer said. “I know everything is up in the air and it’s not the churches fault.”
Sacraments such as the first communion requires two school years worth of once-a-week classes. The date for the ceremony is issued to the families five months ahead of time. Because of the uncertainty from the Diocese of when church gatherings can continue, family members who used the time for celebration arrangements are left unclear of when their postponed date will be.
“It’s sad dealing with this,” Kimberly Adams, aunt of a first communion applicant of St. Marks church in Shoreham, NY, said. “It’s hard to figure out a time to get everyone together, [the communion] was the reason. Who knows if I’d be able to make it at a later date?”
The Colony Shop in Patchogue, a local store specializing in apparel for those receiving their baptisms, first communions or roles as flower girls and ring bearers in weddings, understands the frustration caused by the setback. Even though the shop shut its doors due to the mandate of non-essential businesses to close on March 22 in Suffolk County.
“I’ve had orders since mid to end of January, but now baptisms and weddings are postponed,” Lori Belmonte, co-owner of the local store, said. “Usually everything is final sale, but I’m trying to help those whose plans got interrupted. I’m willing to give store credit or a full exchange for something at a later date.”
While masses cannot be held behind church doors, donations to the church have plummeted.
Participation in sacraments contributes to the well-being of the church as well, Deacon Pagnotta of St. Frances church said. “People can’t attend and now we’re not receiving any donations,” Deacon Pagnotta said.
And attendance is necessary for a church like St. Frances, Deacon Pagnotta said. Without the exposure producing donations, Deacon Pagnotta sits inside the parish office.
“We’re a poor parish, I’m sitting here alone because we don’t have the means for me to work from home. There is no bail out for the church,” Deacon Pagnotta said.
The hiatus of all religious engagements is a small consequence of the outbreak the nation is facing. “The community is understanding,” Deacon Pagnotta said. “ But I can’t even put a plan together until I know what is going on.”