Houses of worship increasingly are taking their services online amid restrictions on large gatherings to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
In the District of Columbia, a music minister of Graceway Baptist Church stood Sunday in the pastor’s house, strumming his guitar to begin the worship — via livestream.
“Welcome to those of you who are joining us online or on Facebook or on our website,” the guitarist said. “Today’s going to be a little bit different.”
Families and worshippers are gathering around iPhones and tablets as churches, temples, synagogues and mosques from Boston to Los Angeles turn to livestreaming, Twitter and other online services.
“[A]fter prolonged deliberation … prayers have been temporarily cancelled at Fargo, Moorhead Mosques,” the Islamic Society of Fargo and Moorhead in North Dakota tweeted Friday.
The empty pews resemble those of quarantined Italy, where the Vatican has ordered no public attendance at Mass, including during Holy Week next month.
In the United States, for many religious practitioners, Friday’s prayers, Saturday’s Shabbat, or Sunday’s services are being experienced digitally from the confines of one’s home.
“I told people to ‘dress up, put some cologne on, be at your best, and come expecting God to move your heart,’” GraceWay Pastor Brad Wells told The Washington Times on Tuesday. “The danger [during house isolation] is that you’re just sitting on your couch, in your pajamas, eating cereal, and you never see anybody or never do anything or never get challenged to be great.”
With widespread social-distancing implemented, limiting gatherings to 50 or fewer people, religion in America for the next few weeks will be mobile.
Last week, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism in New York City live-streamed a Megillah reading for the holy day of Purim.
In New Rochelle, New York, where a coronavirus containment zone has been established by the National Guard, the Young Israel of New Rochelle synagogue held an online Purim party, and it has has posted a form online for anyone quarantined who needs assistance. Last month, a man who attends the synagogue infected more than 50 people.
“We have been model citizens. We shut down our synagogue and our entire membership after one case. We didn’t wait for a cluster,” one congregant told USA Today.
Meanwhile, Churchome, a Los Angeles-based megachurch with its own app, says it has seen a 60% rise in online sign-ups in a week. St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle, an epicenter of the coronavirus, told CNN its online streaming of service has doubled in recent weeks.
Lee Strobel, a teaching pastor at Woodlands Seminary in suburban Houston, tweeted Sunday: “Over 300 salvations through Woodlands Church’s online services this weekend. Thank God! Praying that this medical crisis sparks a revival!”
Mr. Wells said he spent a “sleepless night” in deciding to suspend face-to-face worship, but was heartened by feedback from his community. His administrative assistant on Tuesday reported that more than 2,000 people had tuned in to watch part of GraceWay’s Sunday service.
“I think that’s because while you can’t go to church, you got to watch something,” Mr. Wells said. “You got to see something. You got to get a little bit of truth somehow.”
But he acknowledged that digital and face-to-face worship are not interchangeable.
Many faith communities are scrambling to temporarily abridge aspects of their typical faith practice to stem the spread of the virus. A statement earlier this month from the Islamic Center of Southern California encouraged its community to abstain from kissing fellow worshipers on the cheek during prayers.
“For the time being, it may be worth avoiding touch and switching to a hand on the heart, a respectful nod, and a warm smile,” the religious center said.
And in an address to D.C.-area Catholics, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory said he would give dispensation for their weekly Mass obligation, acknowledging the Eucharist constitutes a large part of the Mass and is inaccessible in a digital environment.
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