WILLIAMSPORT – More than two months after in-person Masses were suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most churches in the Diocese of Scranton have started the gradual reopening process. “It  was  like  Chris tmas .  It  w as wonderful,” Tammy Youmans, parishioner at  Saint Joseph the Worker Parish in Williamsport, said as she returned to Mass for the first time on Sunday, May 24, 2020. “I missed being here. I missed my parish. I  couldn’t wait to get up this morning and be able to actually come and be with everybody.”

The Trout Run mother says during her time away from church her longing for the Eucharist only grew deeper.

“Being without Christ within you has been really hard. Spiritual communion is fine but to receive Him in person, fully, you can’t beat it,” Youmans added.

As of this past Monday, parishes in Luzerne, Monroe, Pike, Susquehanna, Wayne and Wyoming counties could resume Masses. Parishes in Bradford, Lycoming, Sullivan and Tioga counties were able to resume in-person worship on May 18, 2020.

On Monday, June 8, parishes in Lackawanna County will be able to reopen.

“For the last ten weeks, I know many of our faithful parishioners have been longing to return to church, participate in Mass and receive the Holy Eucharist,” Bishop Joseph C. Bambera said. “The  Diocese has been working hard to resume in-person worship in a safe, comfortable and reverent manner.” The exact timetable for an individual parish to reopen will be the decision of its pastor with regard to preparedness, especially in regards to maintaining proper social distancing and sanitization.

Mass attendance at all parishes will be limited to no more than 25-percent of a church’s seating capacity. Parishioners will be required to wear face coverings and remain a proper social distance of at least six feet away from other individuals and families.

The obligation to attend Sunday Mass remains suspended at this time. During a video message to lay faithful, Bishop Bambera encouraged anyone feeling ill to stay home and stay safe. He also asked anyone who is part of a vulnerable population, whether by age or because of an underlying medical condition, to continue participating in Mass by livestreaming or CTV: Catholic Television. “While our reopening process will be gradual, please know we are trying to balance two things: your deep faith and longing for the Eucharist and the dangers of this highly contagious coronavirus,” Bishop Bambera said.

At Saint Joseph the Worker Parish in Williamsport, one of the first to resume daily and weekend Masses, the faithful were both thrilled and thankful to  resume in-person worship.

“It is wonderful to be back,” Virginia Borek of Williamsport said. “It was emotional just being at Mass. It would have been okay if the church was full or I was the only one there.”

Borek described her return to Mass as peaceful. While acknowledging this has been a challenging time, her faith has not waivered at all.

“It makes me appreciate being able to go to Mass every week. I thought that during Mass.”

The Bubb family of Montoursville served Saint Joseph the Worker Parish in several ways as in-person Masses resumed. John Bubb served as lector at the parish’s first 10:30 a.m. Sunday Mass.

“It’s  nice  to  get  the  community together,” Bubb said. “Just to sit in there and find peace and to be in front of the tabernacle, knowing Jesus is  right there, present, body, blood, soul and divinity.”

Bubb’s two eldest daughters, Elizabeth and Victoria, served as greeters and ushers

for parishioners returning to the church for

the first time.

“I just wanted them to feel welcome and to feel we were going to be there and help them through the process so they weren’t nervous about anything. I just wanted to be a friendly face,” Elizabeth Bubb said.

While Elizabeth Bubb appreciated livestream Masses during the pandemic, she said things were not the same during that time.

“We sit on the couch at our house and watch the livestream but it’s not the same because you’re sitting in your house and you’re not dressed as nicely so it’s nice for us to be all together, dressed up, ready to receive the Lord into our hearts,” she added.

Father Brian Van Fossen, pastor, Saint Joseph the Worker, said livestream Masses also pose challenges for clergy.

“When you’re saying the Mass online

or livestreaming it, you don’t hear the

responses so you have to pause a little bit. Also, when you’re giving the homily, you try to give a joke and you hope that it’s funny and they’re laughing but you don’t get that response back.”

Now that in-person Masses have resumed, Father Van Fossen says it is the small things, like a baby crying or cell phone going off that brings  the reality of community back to the celebration.

While his parish livestreaming will continue at this time, he says people as far away as the Philippines have been tuning in. “People have been streaming that and

have been showing off the church. This itty-bitty parish from Williamsport, PA, has really rocked the world in many ways, in just simple ways, that many parishes across our country are doing,” Father Van Fossen