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Faith Leaders Using Creative Ways To Create Fellowship During Social Distancing

The sign in front of St. Joseph Cathedral in Columbus reminds parishoners the church is closed for in-person services.
Karen Kasler
The sign in front of St. Joseph Cathedral in Columbus reminds parishoners the church is closed for in-person services.

This month is a special one for people of many faiths, and not being able to gather has been a concern for those who find fellowship to be comforting, and even necessary in tough times. So faith leaders are finding unique ways to reach out to their congregations.

Worship is different these days, no matter the faith - it's a lot quieter, often just a few voices involved. The music is softer and is performed in solos or small groups rather than choirs and ensembles.

Most houses of worship have closed, some before the state’s stay at home order was issued on March 23. And Gov. Mike DeWine – a devout Catholic – says he’s not going to take further action.

“We’re not going to interfere with your First Amendment rights to practice your religion. But I don’t know any religion that teaches that you should do things that endanger, seriously endanger other people," DeWine said.

One of those places that shut down before the shutdown order is Temple Tifereth-Israel in Beachwood east of Cleveland.

Rabbi Jonathan Cohen says there were concerns about the health of congregants who had traveled. And he says with Passover underway, he knows it’s difficult because there are people who are isolated, and some who don’t have easy access to health care and support.

And he calls this a “multigenerational crisis”, affecting everyone from kids to the elderly.

“This is the need of the hour. This is the call of the moment. And we really must take it seriously. It’s not only our own well-being – it’s not only the well-being of our family members, of our friends, of our close ones and our loved ones. This is a moment of civic responsibility," Cohen said.

Broad Street Presbyterian Church in Columbus changed its regular livestreamed services from the sanctuary into videos recorded by staff members from home and shared on Facebook. Rev. Amy Miracle says she’s been doing a Bible study on Zoom and using calls and emails to reach out, and even stood on someone’s front lawn for a conversation.

And she says she’s glad Holy Week, the most sacred time in the Christian calendar culminating in Easter Sunday, is coming at this time.

“We need a week where we’re intentionally focusing on our relationship with God, on our relationship to one another, and that’s really needed right now," Miracle said.

And Miracle said the church has tried to keep its food pantry open and stocked – which is also the story for other faith-based pantries, including those in the Muslim community.

Ramadan is one of the holiest periods of the year for Muslims. It starts April 23, and usually is a communal time of prayer, service and food.

Amina Barhumi with the Council on American-Islamic Relations said most mosques have been doing services on Facebook and Zoom but a real concern has been how to reach immigrants in their congregations who struggle to get information in their languages.

“We don’t have a lot of material that’s translated, either from the state or federal level. And so we’re having to be able to do that, because very often marginalized communities, communities who are new immigrants are in particular need of the help and the resources and the opportunities that are being laid out," Barhumi said.

Catholics around the world have been celebrating Mass online for weeks. But Secretary and Vicar for Clergy and Religious for the Diocese of Cleveland Father Dan Schlegel says cathedrals and churches are open for private prayer, with no more than 10 people in at a time.

Priests are using technology to reach out, and he says some passed out palm fronds and prayer packets at drive-ups on Palm Sunday. He’s even heard of a priest blessing people in his community from the bed of a pickup truck.

“These are ways that people are thinking outside the box creatively to abide by the rules." Schlegel said. "I think it is irresponsible to gather people together as that church is doing in southern Ohio."

He’s talking about the Solid Rock Church in Monroe north of Cincinnati, which is still doing in person services in spite of pleas from local officials.

The pastor has fired back at those publicly denouncing his church, saying no one’s complaining about people crowding into stores. The latest stay at home order extended to May 1 says stores must limit the number of customers inside them.

Rabbi Jonathan Cohen said with the pandemic nearing its peak, many people are likely keeping the faith at home this season, but he hopes they’re not virtually alone.

“We must maintain our connections with each other and our relationships with each other, either online or in other ways. But we must remain connected, and we must understand that we are responsible for each other," Cohen said.

Like worship services, weddings and funerals are not banned, but are also under the same order limiting gatherings to just 10 people.

Some couples and mourners are going ahead with those events – sometimes online – and planning receptions and memorials later.


Contact Karen at 614-578-6375 or at
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