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Asking the Clergy: How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting worship?

The Rev. Winfred B. Vergara of Holy Trinity

The Rev. Winfred B. Vergara of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Mahmood Kauser of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community with mosques in Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Amityville and Rabbi Joel M. Levenson of Midway Jewish Center. Credit: Holy Trinity Episcopal Church; Mahmood Kauser; Alex M. Wolff

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The coronavirus pandemic has prompted measures, such as social distancing, which limit opportunities for community worship. This week’s clergy discuss how they are keeping up spirits with alternatives to visiting the sanctuary.

Rabbi Joel M. Levenson,

Midway Jewish Center, Syosset

The Jewish people have always been bound tightly together, and that has kept us strong through historic challenges. While our physical building is closed, we are committed to accommodating members and everyone in our community who seek wisdom, courage, comfort, support, encouragement and hope.

There are numerous Jewish values that we turn to as guides at moments like this. The first is the value of saving a life that overrides everything else. A second value is: don't separate yourself from the community. This might sound counterintuitive as we engage in social distancing, but we are living out our synagogue’s mission and purpose to connect our community spiritually and emotionally in alternative ways.

Our weekday religious services and religious education for students have moved online. Our Kindness Task Force is calling the more vulnerable to assess emergency needs to be sure no one in our community is left without such essential items as food and medicine. Groups are meeting in cyberspace.

Even if, at the present moment, we cannot gather in the traditional ways we are used to, we will find ways to remain connected to Torah, to God and to one another.

The Rev. Winfred B. Vergara

Priest in charge, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Hicksville

Complying with the directive from our bishops, we canceled church services beginning March 15. This was a hard thing to do, considering that Holy Eucharist is a sacrament that nourishes our spiritual lives.

We are in solidarity with all New Yorkers, the nation and the world in taking precautionary measures to save lives and stop the spread of coronavirus. Many of our churches and cathedrals — such as the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. — are offering live video streams. Our presiding bishop, Michael B. Curry, is preaching remotely from home. At Holy Trinity in Hicksville, I preach alone in the sanctuary and broadcast it via Facebook Live at 10 a.m. Sundays. I started “Corona Prayer Room 2020,” a virtual prayer service on Tuesdays at 7:14 p.m. As we pray, we focus our thoughts on 2nd Chronicles 7:14: “If my people who are called by my name shall humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins — and heal their land.” As a priest, the only thing I can do is to pray.

Mahmood Kauser, Imam, Ahmadiyya Muslim Community with mosques in Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Amityville

As COVID-19 spans the globe, guidance for Muslims can be found in words of the founder, Holy Prophet Muhammad, whose message transcended cultures. He directed, 1,400 years ago, that, “If you hear of a plague in a land, then do not go into it. If it happens in a land where you are, then do not go out of it.” (Hadith)

Today, we know this to be one of the most basic instructions in containing the spread of any outbreak. In addition, he taught “the whole world has been made a mosque for you” (Hadith), meaning that those who are not able to come to the mosque can receive the blessings they need by praying at home or wherever else is available.

Our members have been urged to stay home if they are sick and take precautions when going outside. Similarly, those who are most at risk in society, such as people older than 60, have been urged to remain home and exercise caution.

In the end, as with all things, the ultimate solutions are prayer and preparedness.

DO YOU HAVE QUESTIONS you’d like Newsday to ask the clergy? Email them to LILife@newsday.com.

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