Michael Pitek and Rabbi Alex Lazarus-Klein are both active in their respective religious communities, and have noticed an increase in connectivity between community members and their church and synagogue during the amended services they’ve helped provide during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pitek, longtime parishioner and president of parish council at Blessed Sacrament Church, realizes the church made sure parishioners could celebrate Holy Week.
Parishioners tuned into online prayer and scripture services, while the church moved music and incense outside. People could walk outside and feel those senses that they would normally feel inside the church.
“One of the things that’s missing [while churches are closed] is the community,” Pitek said. “[It’s difficult not being] able to be with others to have a source of support, have your own moment of prayer and trying to keep [a sense of] community when you can’t gather.”
But, Blessed Sacrament did maintain its sense of community. Church members held multiple food drives, and collected more food than anticipated.
The church started a “Caring Call” ministry, with a committee reaching out to community members to check up on them. For many, Pitek said, it was a beacon of light in the darkness.
The church also created a “Green Thumb” ministry, where church members participated in gardening the church grounds.
“In a different way, that’s a community of sort,” Pitek said. “It’s also a way of beautifying our earth and taking care of the grounds we have.”
As the church prepares to reopen, Pitek thinks church proceedings will be drastically different. The diocese sent guidance and protocols for reopening, and the church is taking those protocols and adapting it to its congregants.
Changes, at least for the foreseeable future, will include a new way of receiving Holy Communion, which the church is still working on. Congregants in pews will be sitting six feet apart in one row, and skipping multiple rows between pews. There will also be no processions in the mass, no hymnals in the pews, no singing during services and no gathering before or after service, but Pitek hopes some of these restrictions will be able to be lifted soon.
Similar changes were enacted for Jewish places of worship, also.
Lazarus-Klein, the spiritual leader for synagogue Congregation Shir Shalom, also has helped increase community support during COVID-19.
Once COVID started, he realized there are many senior citizens and shut-ins in the community, and with that, the synagogue’s administration connected people in need with people out in the community offering to help. Lazarus-Klein also continues to drive by congregants’ houses on Fridays before the Sabbath, and the synagogue puts on outdoor curbside service on Saturday nights.
“[We are providing] direct connections,” Lazarus-Klein said. “[We are] especially reaching out to people and providing opportunities for others to help others.”
Without being able to serve in the synagogue, the online streaming the synagogue was already providing, has reached congregants in different states, as well.
To prepare for reopening, the synagogue is scenario planning. Two major Jewish holidays are celebrated in the fall – Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – and the majority of Jewish membership shows up for these holidays, so the synagogue is working on a way to celebrate these with community members. The synagogue is exploring virtual ways to provide a potential choir presentation to overcome the singing restriction. Lazarus-Klein hopes to be able to visit hospitals and senior living centers soon, to be able to comfort people in person.
Lazarus-Klein provided some insight to all religious leaders during this time: “[We need to] be flexible, creative and not approach [this situation] as just a loss. We find the essential nature of what we do, which is important anyways, and the meaning comes from that.”