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Social distancing hinders local Memorial Day services
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Social distancing hinders local Memorial Day services

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Maj. Gen. Daryl Bohac (copy)

Maj. Gen. Daryl Bohac of the Nebraska National Guard provided the address during the Memorial Day program at Evergreen Home Cemetery in this 2019 file photo. With social distancing and other health measures still in effect to combat COVID-19, many churches and organizations are unable to hold mass gatherings for annual Memorial Day services this year.

With social distancing and other health measures still in effect to combat COVID-19, many churches are unable to hold mass gatherings for their annual Memorial Day services this year.

Memorial Day is a reflective day of remembrance for everyone who died serving in the American armed forces. The holiday, originally known as Decoration Day, started after the Civil War to honor the Union and Confederate dead. However, it wasn’t until after World War II that the holiday gained a strong following and national identity, and it wasn’t officially named Memorial Day until 1967.

Many Beatrice churches transitioned or heightened their online broadcasts of services amid pandemic restrictions.

St. John Lutheran Church even conducted several drive-in style services in the church’s parking lot. As restrictions lighten in Nebraska, but COVID-19 cases continue to be confirmed, the future of church services is one of many things put into question.

St. Joseph’s Catholic Church had a soft opening on May 16 and May 17, where 60 individuals were allowed to attend while adhering to social distancing. A message on the church’s Facebook group told senior citizens or persons with impaired health conditions, any symptoms or illness or working in healthcare facilities or hospitals should not attend.

St. Joseph’s Rev. Robert Barnhill said the live streams will also continue until there are no restrictions in the state. He called the impact of COVID-19 an action of “thriving or surviving”.

“Hopefully for us we’re talking about thriving…But we know now, in the fall if something happens and they implement [restrictions], we know what to do,” Barnhill said.

Dr. Dan Martin, Senior Pastor at Christ Community Church, said permanent changes to the structure of services depends on the duration of the virus. He said if there is a lasting impact, then Christ Community will adjust to it.

“We would all love to hit the rewind button and return our ministries back to pre COVID-19 normal, but we cannot do that,” Martin said. “We also should not wait to see if normal returns in a few months or year, either. We are encouraging our church family to embrace this new normal in the best way that they can while loving and serving one another.”

Barnhill said he does not have deep reservations or feelings of disappointment for the churches and individuals who defied orders to attend mass. However, Barnhill said that he – and by extension the church and St. Joseph Catholic School – will continue to follow the guidelines from Governor Pete Ricketts and the Department of Health.

Both Barnhill and Martin noted that the virus has made their churches increase communication with parishioners, and that they continue to receive donations.

“The parish will not struggle in these times, and I think that will continue,” Barnhill said. “It wasn’t asked, it just happened naturally. They saw there was a need, so they gave.”

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