With many churches, synagogues and mosques closed because of the pandemic, clergy across religious traditions have found new ways to bring people together.
The Rev. Jerry Streets said COVID-19 has called on faith leaders to be creative, “... which for me has meant alternative ways of connecting through weekly Zoom meetings with the congregation, online worship services. And what I’m sensing is a whole new model of ministry being forged as a result of responding to the pandemic.”
Streets is the pastor at Dixwell Avenue Congregational Church in New Haven and former chaplain at Yale University.
“Dixwell is about 110-15 people, the oldest African-American Congregational Church in the known world. And a significant number of our members are mature elderly. And so we’ve found the need to partner them with their grandchildren and younger people who’ve helped them to learn and to use the technology.”
Rabbi Stacy Offner of Temple Beth Tikvah in Madison described online worship services as both challenging and exhilarating.
“That my entire community can be found in my, I don’t know, what is it -- 6-by-8 screen, it’s just a miracle. Even as we know there is no way it takes the place of that personal physical touch.”
Refai Arefin is Imam of the Islamic Association of Greater Hartford, also known as the Berlin Mosque.
“One of the things that we had already done even before the COVID crisis, is that we had already cultivated a social media presence,” he said. Most members of his congregation are under the age of 40.
“We made sure that we had a page on Twitter, on Instagram, on Facebook. And as a result, I think our level of engagement with young people has actually increased through the COVID crisis.”
Faith leaders say they’ve felt tremendous pressure guiding their congregations through the grief, loss and trauma of the pandemic, but they agree that technology has been key in helping their communities stay resilient.