On the Fifth Sunday of Lent, worshippers from the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation in Garden City were gathered for morning prayer, though not in the sanctuary.
They were seated before computer screens, tablets or phones in their kitchens, living rooms and elsewhere, as they settled in for service and the discussion to follow through Zoom videoconferencing.
Many said they appreciated the ability to commune with one another — even if only virtually — since the coronavirus' spread has led governments to halt large gatherings and urge people to stay home.
"Being able to pray this way on Sunday morning is a good relief," said one cathedral worshipper, who was among 50 people who joined the videoconference. Said another, "It's wonderful to see you, even though we can't see each other in person."
"It's wonderful to see you all for prayer," said The Very Rev. Dr. Michael Sniffen, a priest who is the dean of the cathedral. The cathedral has a membership of about 800 families, and is the mother church for the 60,000 member Episcopal Diocese on Long Island, he said.
In an interview later, Sniffen said of shifting to Zoom videoconferencing: "We’re really learning on the fly. We’re building it as it happens. For us, it seems like the pastoral connection and seeing each others' faces is the most important part."
Before the service started, Sniffen gave instructions on how to communicate in the videoconference. Parishioners were encouraged to "unmute yourself when we're sharing intercessions and petitions. ... And we do encourage you to pray out loud at home just as if you were in church as we raise our prayers together."
A prayer was said, followed by the hymn "How Firm a Foundation," sung a cappella by the Rev. Canon Michael F. Delaney, cathedral vicar. One line reads, "Fear not, I am with you."
Then in prayer, Father Delaney asked God to "look with mercy on those who have contracted the coronavirus, on all who are vulnerable and on all who feel endangered. Through this time of global concern, by your Holy Spirit, bring out the best, not the worst in us. Make us more aware of our interdependence on each other."
Some congregants asked for prayers for family members who have fallen ill with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Others sought prayers for the safety of family members who are health care workers and first-responders who are attending to those sickened by the virus.
During the virtual coffee-hour following service, a health care worker, who could be seen wearing a surgical face mask and scrubs — two co-workers similarly clad could be seen standing behind her — said: "We're hanging in there. I'm at work right now. ... I was wondering, if it was not too much trouble, if we can get a special prayer today?"
The Rev. Adam Bucko responded, asking God "To hold them with care, support them, to encourage them, and most of all to protect them. May you please keep them safe, may you inspire all of their actions ... and may you let them know they are never alone."
Sniffen, in the interview, said of the coronavirus' effect on his congregation: "One of the things that I’m noticing specifically, as a pastoral caregiver, is grief, all the stages: Anger, denial, acceptance, all of those things swirling around because there’s such a sense of loss, on all of the ways we connect."
He said there was "concern for family and friends in the hospital. So it’s really important for us to walk alongside each other to help people process grief, and process it out loud."