The COVID-19 pandemic may have shuttered Delaware’s houses of worship to the general public. However, it has not entirely closed them off.
Through technology and other methods, faith leaders are continuing to deliver messages of hope as staff and volunteers try to carry out their traditional roles of helping the community in times of need.
Christ Church of Christiana Hundred, an Episcopal church, would typically get about 350 visitors for a Sunday service. In recent weeks, they have been staying home to tune in for an online sermon via Facebook or the church website.
Sunday April 5th, Rev. Ruth Bereford and associate priest Ann Urinoski handed out palm fronds to people who drove up. Also distributed were compact discs that were recorded in 2004 of the choir during Good Friday and Easter services that were recently found in the church attic.
Some of the visitors were in tears, and many expressed “virtual hugs,” according to Rev. Bereford. They waved the palms out of their car windows as they returned home.
While in-person Palm Sunday events were not encouraged in the Diocese, Father McQuaide said priests and churches have continued to find ways to preach the message.
“It started 2,000 years ago with twelve guys. They didn’t have any computers. They just had the word of mouth,” Father McQuaide said. “Thankfully today our technology has developed and we can not just share the word from person to person but by e-mail, by text, by live-streaming services, our websites…so many ways we can gather our communities virtually and continue to share the good news.”
Father McQuaide added that weekly offerings in the parishes are generally down from normal levels due to the inability to “pass the basket,” but many parishioners are adjusting by giving online or simply mailing in a check in the offertory envelope.
“We look to our people and ask if they can be generous, realizing that many of them are affected by this too,” Father McQuaide said. “They’re losing jobs; they’re having hours cut. It’s important for us not only to ask if people can help us but how can we help those who are in need from our parishes.”
The Town Church, a Presbyterian Church of America house of worship in Middletown, has been live-streaming its services from the beginning.
It was previously known as Stone’s Throw Church before it moved into its new building only 14 months ago. Pastor Dan Betters said about 10-to-20 percent of its approximately 400 members would typically watch online during an average week due to travel, sickness in the family or other reasons.
“The transition for us to live stream I think has probably been hardest on the congregation in that they don’t get to see each other – and then, of course, I’m preaching to an empty room,” Pastor Betters said.
“Not much has changed. But at the same time, I think we’ve been equipped through God’s providence we believe really to transition into this and provide something that people need right now, which is connection – in a virtual way. We don’t see it as the best way, but we see it as the only way right now,” said Pastor Betters.
Passover starts today
While this is Holy Week on the Christian calendar, Jewish people in Delaware are preparing for Passover, which starts Wednesday. Rabbi Yair Robinson of Congregation Beth Emeth in Wilmington said services, Torah studies, bar and bat mitzvahs and other events have been conducted via Youtube, Facebook Live and Zoom for several weeks. A Passover Seder is also going to be shown Thursday night on Zoom.
“Is it the same thing? Is it the same as being able to gather around a table? Absolutely not. But it is something and it gives us the chance to be with one another and also support each other to get through this as healthy as possible,” Rabbi Robinson said.
The Islamic Society of Delaware, meanwhile, had to cancel all in-person congregational prayers as well as its availability for five-times-daily prayer, according to its secretary Faizal Chaudhury. The spiritual guide, the Imam, has been live-streaming his message on the past few Fridays.
“It’s not the ideal obviously. In-person is always the best,” Chaudhury said. “We’re trying to adjust the best that we can under the circumstances. I guess the blessing is that with the advancement in technology now we do have digital channels to reach out to the community and engage with them which obviously in the past we might not have had the chance to do.”
Ramadan, the Islamic faith’s month of prayer and fasting, begins April 23rd.
“This is a time where you can reflect, and be really humble,” Chaudhury said.
While the faiths have their differences, their approaches toward these uncertain times also have some similarities.
“Two-thousand-plus years later, we’re still spreading the good news that God is going to win in the end,” said Rev. Joseph Archie, Wilmington District Superintendent of The Peninsula-Delaware Conference, United Methodist Church.
At The Journey, a large non-denominational church near Newark that started in 2007, Our Next Step Pastor Abby Ecker said the biggest challenge of the past few weeks – although it’s always had a large online audience – is figuring out how to keep encouraging members to “gather, connect and serve.”
“Our thought is people are really hungry right now for connection, and I think this church is perfectly poised to offer that connection.”
All Christ Church Christiana Hundred photos by Penny Ashford Photography