Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Faith in the time of coronavirus: Local congregations learn new ways to reach members

While people are looking to communities of faith for answers during the global coronavirus pandemic, many places of worship have had to move online. (WYDaily/Pexels)
While people are looking to communities of faith for answers during the coronavirus pandemic, many places of worship have had to move online. (WYDaily/Pexels)

Rabbi David Katz inspires his congregation on Friday evenings with traditional songs, the word of God and messages of faith—-all from his son’s bedroom.

“It’s the quietest place in the house for video conferencing,” he said. 

Katz is just one of many religious leaders in the area who have had to take to online platforms to connect with their congregation as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic forces faith organizations to practice social distancing. 

“It’s very tricky because our work, the work of all clergy and religious communities, is essentially communal,” he said.

During the first week that Temple Beth El was closed for service, it was very difficult for people not to have that social faith connection, Katz said. He learned after about a week how to use the video conferencing platform, Zoom, to perform weekly services. But he recognizes it’s still isn’t the same experience for most people.

Katz said there are a lot of essential prayers in the Jewish faith that need multiple people to gather, such as Shiva, the mourning process that requires at least 10 people.

While the coronavirus limits the amount of people who can gather, Katz said he is trying to communicate to his congregation this is still a time for faith communities to connect. He said he has been using the phrase “physically isolate” as opposed to “socially isolate” because people are trying to socially connect while physically isolating themselves.

“This is the moment of challenges,” he said. “This is challenging some of the most fundamental aspects of society, things we take for granted, and that challenges our belief in everything.”

At Saint Bede Catholic Church, staff are working hard to stay in touch with the 3,000 families in its congregation, said Sam Samorian, the church’s director of development. While the church’s building currently remains open, there is a limit to how many people can be in the sanctuary space at a time.

In the meantime, the church has started sending electronic newsletters, calling people through a phone tree and are live-streaming daily masses.

But even with all of that access to technology, Samorian said the distance is still creating issues.

“Part of the foundation not only of the Catholic faith but the Christian faith is gathering in communion,” he said. “When you lose the ability to physically touch your faith, it can be hard for some people. But reaching out through phone and email is a way to keep people connected.”

Samorian said that’s not something new for Saint Bede. When the church opened in 1932, he said there weren’t enough priests for weekly mass. People at the congregation would gather maybe once and month and in the space in between would practice domestic mass, where they would gather for worship with their family members.

CrossWalk Church has started connecting with its congregation through online platforms and live-streamed services. (WYDaily/CrossWalk Church Facebook)
CrossWalk Church has started connecting with its congregation through online platforms and live-streamed services. (WYDaily/CrossWalk Church Facebook)

At CrossWalk Church, a non-denominational Christian faith organization, clergy leaders are taking steps to continue growing their online presence. Pastor Destiny Rothwell said the church had a decent online presence before the coronavirus, but the purpose was to encourage people to come into the church for service.

“It’s been a learning curve for sure,” she said. “But we are finding that we’re going back to basics because the church was never the building, it’s the people.”

The church has had to cancel many of its events and regular gatherings. Rothwell said it’s incredibly difficult for people because they might be experiencing more fear and loneliness more than usual and can no longer rely on their faith community for face-to-face interaction. 

But just because they’re limited in physical interaction doesn’t mean work with the church has stopped.

CrossWalk has started streaming its services over a live feed, reaching out to its congregation through social media and has started using Zoom to connect its faith groups and gatherings. 

“What I’ve experienced as you go on a Zoom call is there’s been lots of tears and laughter,” she said. “There’s sentiments of people saying ‘wow I took the church for granted so much before.’”

CrossWalk has also started a page on its website called COVID-aid that allows members of the congregation to either request assistance or provide help by filling out a form. The church plans to continue providing resources for members of its congregation as the outbreak prevents large gatherings. 

Muhammad Amer, chairman of trustees at Peninsula Islamic Community Center, said all the mosques in Hampton Roads met on March 13 via teleconference and issued a joint statement about the coronavirus.

The statement was from PICC, the Mosque of Williamsburg, Hampton Mosque, Masjid Al-Quba, Muslim Community of Tidewater, Rumi Friendship Association, TARF-Ansar Mosque, Masjid Crescent Community Center, Masjid William Salaam and Chesapeake Mosque.

The new social distancing measure makes congregational prayers impossible so all local Masajid, mosques, closed congregational prayers and Jumuah Friday prayers for a couple weeks.

They also closed all Halaqas, meetings, and other activities until further notice.

“We want to reassure the community that we do not take these decisions lightly and are saddened at the closure of our Masajid,” the statement read. “None of us expected to ever see this happen. We encourage our community to make Dua that this pandemic passes quickly and we can reopen our centers.”

On March 27, the Muslim community started live streaming prayers on the Hampton Roads Community Insider Facebook page.

It’s unclear what the community plans to do for Ramadan at this time. For more updates, visit the HRIC’s Facebook page or the Hampton Roads Muslims Facebook page.


Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at

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