Since opening the region’s largest mosque 14 years ago, the Muslim Association of Puget Sound has never canceled its traditional Friday prayer service.
But that changed late Thursday when, after speaking with King County and public health officials, President Hyder Ali decided — “out of an abundance of caution,” he said — to cancel the Redmond mosque’s congregational prayers amid a rapid spread of the novel coronavirus in Washington. Ali estimated the Friday service typically draws 1,000 worshipers.
“This is a significant step that we’ve taken,” he said.
Across the Puget Sound region, as public health officials cautioned against large gatherings in the hopes of slowing the spread of coronavirus, some religious groups and houses of worship started canceling services — or finding creative ways to pray.
King County officials have recommended, though haven’t yet mandated, that people at a higher risk of developing serious symptoms from COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, stay home and avoid large groups. They said those recommendations are particularly important for people over 60 and those with a compromised immune system.
Temple De Hirsch Sinai, a Reform congregation in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, will stream its Shabbat services Friday night and Saturday morning, rather than have congregants come in person.
That’s not an option for all synagogues: Orthodox congregations abide by religious rules that restrict them from using technology on the Sabbath, the day of rest. Capitol Hill Minyan, a Jewish Orthodox prayer group that meets at a retirement community, announced on its website that it was suspending services as of March 4.
But the changes are discordant with the current the lunar month of Adar, one that’s traditionally marked by joyous celebrations — including the Jewish holiday of Purim, which this year starts Monday night and lasts through Tuesday.
On Purim, many Jewish people gather to celebrate a recounting of Queen Esther’s heroism saving them from potential doom. Those celebrations entail the reading of a Megilla, or sacred text; dressing in costumes; offering gifts of food to friends; contributing charity and sharing a feast.
Rabbi Moshe Kletenik, who leads Minyan Ohr Chadash, said his Seward Park congregation will continue conducting daily, Sabbath and Purim services despite the guidance to avoid large gatherings.
“So long as they aren’t saying that we must cancel services, … we will be guided by the advice of health professionals,” said Kletenik, who also heads the Va’ad HaRabanim of Greater Seattle, the local arm of a council of Orthodox rabbis.
He urged members, if they have any potential symptoms or are among the vulnerable populations, not to attend services.
“We’re not yet at the point of canceling,” Kletenik added. “If the advice changes, we will follow suit.”
At the Bellevue temple for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a woman who answered the phone said there were no plans to cancel. She referred questions to a regional spokesman, who was not immediately available for comment.
But the church-owned Deseret News in Utah reported that Kenneth Williams, president of the Bothell Washington region, confirmed the Seattle-area stake canceled Sunday sacrament meetings and other activities for the rest of the week.
In place of those meetings, the Deseret News reported, Williams suggested that families and members “listen to church leaders’ talks or do family history work.”
On Wednesday evening, the Sammamish Presbyterian Church announced that someone who attended service in the past two weeks tested positive for COVID-19.
The church decided to immediately close the campus for deep cleaning and canceled all activities Wednesday night, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, according to a letter to the community.
The church planned to hold services Sunday, though Sunday-school classes and meetings before or after worship have been canceled.
“We want to come together as a community of faith to worship this Sunday,” the letter said.
Church leaders said that Sunday’s services will be different — offering plates, friendship pads and bulletins will not be passed around. The community will also refrain from shaking hands when greeting each other.
The leadership team will reassess Sunday afternoon.
Last weekend, as news broke of the first cases of COVID-19 in Washington, the Grace Lutheran Church in Port Townsend notified parishioners that it would make temporary changes to its worship practices.
“We will not be offering the common cup during communion until the risk of the virus passes,” the church said in an email. “We will all be using the small glasses which are cleaned and sanitized after each use.”
The church also suggested “that we use the elbow bump rather than a handshake or hug during the passing of the peace.”
Seattle Times staffers Elise Takahama and Gina Cole contributed to this report.