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, we ask more clergy to discuss changes that may outlast the pandemic.
The Rev. Paul Downing
Pastor, St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church, Port Jefferson Station
That’s an appropriate question with the approach of Reformation Day (Oct. 31), the anniversary of Martin Luther posting the 95 Theses, which sparked many church reform movements.
Three changes leap to mind: our online presence, Communion practice and physical considerations. After our first service over Facebook Live, we immediately decided we would still livestream after returning to in-person worship. Everyone knows Zoom now. We use it for meetings, Bible study and prayer group.
Erring to the side of caution, we went almost six months before reopening. Weekly Communion, sharing bread and wine under which we believe and trust Jesus’ own body and blood to be present, was the strongest impetus for returning. This sacrament brings forgiveness in a tangible way, tasting the grace we hear in God’s word, as well as providing unity with Christ, loved ones and strangers alike, across time and space. Now we are cognizant of the way we distribute it. Methods may change, but sensitivity will remain.
Sharing peace with a handshake or hug has been replaced with words spoken softly through masks or a 1960s peace sign across the room. Singing has been curtailed. While we may revise practices, we will be forever mindful of any social-distancing protocols in effect.
Hindu representative, Long Island Multi-Faith Forum
The movie "Contagion" (2011), which is about the world facing a pandemic, can be turned off with a click. Alas, a real-life pandemic can’t be ended that way.
Hindus, like many of their fellow Americans, consider worship an essential part of life. Congregating for worship is a fundamental part of Hinduism. Gatherings pose a risk for increasing the spread of COVID-19, so we had to change the rules of engagement. Initially our temple was closed to devotees. Only the priest could enter to perform daily prayers and rituals.
Since reopening, a regulated, limited number of worshippers are allowed into the temple at fixed times. Religious instruction classes, yoga sessions and senior programs are offered on Zoom. Board meetings are no longer in person. Previously, attendees would linger after prayers to meet friends, have a snack at the temple cafeteria with family or buy (or just browse) at the temple gift shop. Not anymore. Since the foot traffic has decreased, the temple income has decreased dramatically, too.
The community is also cutting back on Bollywood-style weddings and scaling back on buying festive saris and custom-made outfits that would be traditional for occasions and holidays.
Marie McNair of East Patchogue
Secretary, Regional Baha'i Council of the Northeastern States
In the Baha’i faith, work performed in the spirit of service is worship, and service to humanity is service to God. Devotion must find expression in action.
In that spirit, as the pandemic struck, the Baha’is of Long Island looked for ways to assist those in need. Strangely, it was the changes brought about by the pandemic that allowed our ability to assist people to increase greatly. For example, we saw that using technology like Zoom eliminated limitations of location and travel that previously hindered our ability to bring people together. On the contrary, using technology enabled us to provide spiritual assistance to more people during these difficult times.
We discovered that those seeking to make sense of a society immersed in disunity, racism and materialism were happy to participate in devotional gatherings or meaningful conversation sessions hosted by Baha’is. There, those of diverse races, religions and backgrounds prayed together or shared thoughts about such topics as unity, equality, racial justice and peaceful cooperation. With people expressing relief to be in a spiritually uplifting environment such as that which the Baha’i community provides, plans for continuing these activities will continue, even after the current restrictions are lifted.
DO YOU HAVE QUESTIONS you’d like Newsday to ask the clergy? Email them to LILife@newsday.com.