WEST CHESTER — When the 9/11 attack shook the United States in 2001, churches remained open. When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, churches remained open. When World War 1 erupted in 1914, killing about 20 million people, churches remained open.
But the coronavirus, which cannot be seen and isn't yet defeated because there is no known vaccine, is forcing centuries-old churches to close their doors for the first time.
"This is a very curious time," said Christopher Rogers, pastor of St. Patrick Church in Kennett Square, which opened 103 years ago. "I don't believe for a moment that God is involved in this. But I do think this puts the whole world on a retreat."
Rogers said on Sunday, only about 70 people came to each of the masses.
"I do expect us to get word that we will be closed," he said. "The church is open now, but I feel that will change."
Olivet United Methodist Church in Coatesville canceled all services for this week and next week and will begin live streaming all services.
"I have never seen anything like this," said Darlene McCormack, an official at the church. "This is beyond extraordinary and we are doing what the governor tells us to do."
Westminster Presbyterian Church in West Chester live-streamed its service, and even closed its Thrift Shop until April 13 with no donations being accepted.
Calvary Lutheran Church in West Chester broadcast its service on Sunday.
"We have gone to an online service, and it was very well received," said Charlene Taggerty, a church worker. "We even had an organist there to play. We expect to do this the next several weeks. We are handing out hymnals for our members to have at home to use. It's what you have to do at a time like this. The technology is helping a great deal with this."
Paul Hunt, pastor of the Church of the Holy Trinity in West Chester, said all public worship services and group meetings are cancelled for two weeks.
Newly-appointed Archbishop Nelson Perez and the bishops of Pennsylvania have excused Catholics from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass until further notice, although all Masses in the Archdiocese will continue to take place for those who would like to attend, according to a statement released by the Archdiocese. Everyone is encouraged to take necessary precautions and those who are vulnerable are urged to strongly consider staying home.
But because yesterday President Donald Trump recommended that meetings of groups of 10 or more be prohibited, a recommendation echoed by officials at the Centers for Disease Control, places of worship will be forced to lock their doors this weekend.
"If we were being told to go and fight in war, we would step up to it, but what we are being told is basically to go home and do nothing," Rogers said. "Thank God we have electricity and the internet. My word to people today is to make sure you are signed up for these, because it will be the only way we can communicate."
Churches around the world have been limiting services because of the coronavirus. One church in Washington, D.C., had a coronavirus scare after a member who shared the common cup tested positive for the virus. The Vatican also eliminated crowds for its service on Sunday morning and encouraged more people to watch online.
The total number of coronavirus-related cases in the state reached 76 Monday morning after the Pennsylvania Department of Health on Monday confirmed 13 additional positive cases of COVID-19, including four in Chester County.