The Right Rev. Douglas Fisher, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, is telling the faithful on the diocesan website to suspend public worship in light of the coronavirus, saying “liturgy should not provoke fear and anxiety.”
“After two weeks we will reevaluate based on the recommendations of local and state health officials,” Fisher posted. “I encourage all of our congregations to do this, not just those in areas that have positive cases of the virus. If you feel you can gather safely and without anxiety, I support you. This is not a mandate.”
The Right Rev. Alan M. Gates, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, issued further pastoral guidance in which he posted links to a “growing list of congregations live-streaming and podcasting services” as well as a tutorial on streaming via Facebook Live
The Most Rev. Mitchell T. Rozanski, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese, has suspended Masses and other activities in the state’s four western counties until further notice. He has urged the faithful to participate through Mass either through the televised “Chalice of Salvation” or online weekend services at stagnescc.com.
Concerns over the infectious nature of coronavirus disease 2019 has temporarily closed down a range of institutions from schools to casinos to a growing number of houses of worships that are urging the faithful toward digital technology.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is suspending public gatherings of church members worldwide “until further notice,” while Southern New England Conference UCC is recommending that churches not gather for at least the next two Sundays,
First Church of Christ in Longmeadow, UCC will stream its Sunday service at 10 a.m. on its Facebook page, facebook.com/firstchurchlongmeadow.
Sinai Temple’s web page has a prominent coronavirus update saying “all activities at the synagogue will be cancelled or held remotely until further notice.”
The website of the Hampshire Mosque in Hadley notes the “Open Mosque Day event which was scheduled for March 29” has been postponed, asks those who continue to attend services to “consider bringing you own prayer mats” and says several other events in April board members are “assessing and may postpone as the situation progresses.”
It lists several other “trustworthy websites to keep yourself updated.”.
“Though efforts have been made to ensure safety in our sanctuary through social distancing and increased sanitization practices, the fact remains that for many in our congregation, presence in a communal space is not medically advised, and for many others is cause for great anxiety,” the Rev. Charlotte LaForest, rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, writes in her announcement in suspending services and events at the Longmeadow parish for two weeks.
She adds that the parish “will be live-streaming a service of Holy Eucharist” at 10 a.m. on Sundays and “will also be exploring ways for us to gather in community spaces online during this time.”
In his directive temporarily suspending all daily and Sunday Masses and services in the Boston Archdiocese until further notice, Cardinal Sean O’Malley directed worshipers to an online site to view the celebration of Mass live or on demand.
However, on his blog, perhaps in a nod to those faithful who would not find much solace or do not have access to digital technology in the archdiocese, O’Malley wrote that he has “asked that all parishes provide for their churches be open every day during reasonable hours in order that the Catholic faithful and other members of the community can have the opportunity to visit the church for times of prayer and that, when possible, there be exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in the churches.”
Online can also be used to find faith communities, like East Longmeadow’s United Methodist Church, where the web page indicates staff “are sanitizing doorknobs, light switches, handrails, restroom doors, and faucets continually” as services continue, and others, like Alden Baptist Church on State Street, where the focus remains on ministry.
In his posting, Episcopal Bishop Fisher seemed to offer worshipers a way to navigate the coronavirus pandemic, the digital age and the call to be presence physically as a believer when their services are suspended.
“Even as we embrace the need for social distancing, we are called to keep holy the Lord’s Day,” reminds Fisher.
“I invite us all to explore new ways to pray together, using the tools of this age and “The Book of Common Prayer.” I invite our churches to develop networks to check in on one another and offer pastoral care. It’s important that we stay connected to one another as we navigate these days of uncertainty. Our faith is our greatest gift and best defense when the global community is rocked by fear. We may use these two weeks as a time to go deep in prayer, to reach out to the isolated and fearful among us in creative ways, and to be witnesses of hope.”