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Asking the Clergy: How has the pandemic changed your house of worship?

From left, the Rev. Winfred B. Vergara of

From left, the Rev. Winfred B. Vergara of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Anu Jain of the Jain Center of America, and Rabbi Shalom Ber Cohen of Village Chabad (Stony Brook). Credit: Holy Trinity Episcopal Church; Anu Jain; Chanie Cohen

With the COVID-19 pandemic possibly beginning a second wave in the region, Long Island houses of worship continue to adapt. Closed or socially distanced sanctuaries, online services and creative ways of staying connected have become the new normal. This week’s clergy discuss changes that may outlast the pandemic.

Anu Jain of Jericho

Executive board member, Jain Center of America in Elmhurst, Queens

The pandemic has created many challenges for our houses of worship. For the foreseeable future, religious gatherings will be on a much smaller scale than in previous times. Our temple in Hicksville is closed most of the time.

To accommodate worshippers, our temples in Elmhurst, Queens, and in New Hyde Park are open all day so that people can pray at different times and avoid being in large groups. And you have to cover your face all the time when you are surrounded by other people. Also, as a result of the pandemic, many immunocompromised and elderly people will not return to the temple for months or even for years.

Live webcasts of prayers and different religious activities will probably become a new "permanent" addition at our temples. And I believe that some are reevaluating their lives and are thinking more about God and making donations to help the poor. Maybe these changes are going to be in practice for a long time, but the truth is, nothing stays constant. Things are always changing, growing, declining, moving and shifting. And some moments accelerate and magnify change, such as is happening now.

The Rev. Canon Winfred B. Vergara

Priest in charge, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Hicksville

The COVID-19 pandemic has revolutionized the way we do church. We have become more flexible and nimbler in enabling the church to function within and outside the building as chapel, campus and community center. The traditional coffee hour, handshakes, hugging, the holy kiss and other symbols of fellowship are on hold.

Furthermore, the church can no longer treat the internet and social media as optional extras. Every worship service is now hybrid: both physical and virtual. The coronavirus pandemic has rendered books and printed bulletins obsolete and at best only secondary to mobile phones, emails, Zoom, Facebook, Twitter and other social media.

In addition, the pandemic has challenged how we view church membership. On June 11, 1739, the Anglican priest and founder of Methodism, John Wesley, declared, "The world is my parish." We now have two types of church membership: local, consisting of those who are listed in our directory, and global — those who are participating via virtual services from all over the world.

Rabbi Shalom Ber Cohen

Village Chabad (Stony Brook)

Will there be long-lasting, meaningful changes from COVID-19? Will we maintain our heightened levels of introspection and continue to spend more quality time with our loved ones? If you study the two most monumental events in Jewish history — the Exodus from Egypt and the Revelation at Sinai seven weeks later — you will discern a pattern: Externally induced change is short-lived.

Three days after being liberated from Egypt, the people challenged Moses, saying that they "would rather serve the Egyptians than die in the desert." (Exodus 14:12) And during the Great Revelation at Sinai, just weeks after hearing God say, "I am the Lord, Do not worship another" (Exodus 20), the people dance around a calf made of gold in blatant violation of the prohibition against worshipping idols. We can learn from our history. Change that is artificial rather than organic is superficial and temporary.

Let us dwell on, delve into and develop our inner world. Let us define our core values, refine our beliefs and philosophy, and redesign our habits and lifestyles to reflect our highest and truest selves. If we can achieve that, we will have managed to reshape and reframe a period of turbulence, transience, tribulation and tragedy into personal and collective triumph and lasting transformation.

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

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