Religious congregants across the Pioneer Valley continue to stay connected to one another even if weekly physical gatherings for services or prayers aren’t taking place. Many are turning to internet streaming, along with social media and other forms of media, to continue their worship amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Northampton, St. John’s Episcopal moved its Sunday service online via livestreaming on Facebook for the first time earlier this month with a morning prayer and sermon, said the Rev. Julianne Buenting, the church’s pastor.
“It’s important to remember that the church is not the building — it’s the people and our relationships and that we try to continue to love God and our neighbors even if we’re not physically gathering on Sunday for worship,” she said.
She added members of the congregation felt connected with the Facebook livestream. But not all parishioners are able to be connected online.
“I especially made an effort to call by phone some of the folks who live alone or who are elderly or have other health problems,” Buenting said. “It’s understandable that they would feel even more anxious and perhaps more isolated.”
Rabbi Justin David of Congregation B’nai Israel in Northampton said last week it became clear to the synagogue that the best option to keep people safe was to shut down.
“What’s happened in the days since then is that we’ve found ways to connect online,” he said. “It was very important to have a committee of people from the synagogue reach out to those who could potentially be most vulnerable and to check in with them and see what they needed. And that’s going to be an ongoing project.”
David said through Zoom, members of the synagogue have been able to pray, sing and study together.
“I’m finding that these moments of gathering online, whether it’s for 15 minutes or a half an hour, whether it’s to interact or just listen, they’re really joyous moments,” he said. “Especially in the beginning, there’s this sense of wonder and discovery that people have on seeing each other, even if it’s online.”
In the coming weeks, the synagogue hopes to also allow people to work (while still being 6 feet away from one another) on the synagogue’s farm, which grows food for the Northampton Survival Center, David said.
Mark Dupont, secretary for communications for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, said all in-person Masses across the diocese’s parishes have been canceled, but priests have been holding Mass online and via social media to keep Catholics in western Massachusetts connected during the time of Lent.
“There have been streaming Masses and other religious services, as well as talks, to be present with the people during this very difficult time,” he said.
The diocese also has a weekly one-hour televised Sunday Mass program on Channel 22, WWLP, at 10 a.m. called “The Chalice of Salvation.” It’s conducted by the head of the Springfield Diocese, Bishop Mitchell Rozanski, who has used his sermons to address the coronavirus pandemic and Catholics can understand the crisis through their faith.
“He’s obviously tried to relate to them and understands that it’s a very scary and frightening time,” Dupont said of Bishop Rozanzki. “He’s reminded the faithful that we are a people of faith and we should receive some comfort from God’s presence in our lives, but knowing the uncertainty creates certain trepidation among the people … The faith during these dark times, especially, is here.”
In Hadley, the Hampshire Mosque canceled all activities as of last Friday, said Naz Mohamed, the mosque’s clerk. Right now, the mosque is only open for the five daily prayers for individuals. Group prayers have been canceled.
“The mosque is frequented by just a handful of people,” she said. “And we’re working as a team to make sure that we keep the community safe and prevent the spread of the virus because it’s such an unknown miniscule thing that has brought down the world to its knees. The belief is that it’s all God’s, the creator’s, plan that we do not understand, but we have to accept and do our best.”
Right now is a time to reflect inward for her and other members of the mosque to become closer with their beliefs, Mohamed said.
“I have been sending a lot of links to webinars and lectures that are relevant and information and guidance to the community, but we do have the option in the faith and directions from the prophetic traditions that in times like this we can do our worship at home. It’s not necessary to be in a big gathering or small gathering for worship,” she said.
Peter Blood, a Leverett resident and co-convener for the Interfaith Opportunities Network, a group that encourages religions to understand one another and form community bonds in Hampshire County and western Massachusetts, said the group includes several Christian parishes, the Hadley Mosque, the Amherst Baha’i Assembly and others.
Recently, the network convened a meeting online of eight different congregations to worship together and plan for the future, he added.
“I think it means a great deal to people because even though people need to socially distance in physical terms, they need to be more supported and connected to each other. Whether it’s phone calls or emails or these online gatherings over things like Zoom, they can reach out to each other, connect to each other and give comfort and support to each other,” Blood said.