Common sense and a state-ordered ban on in-person group worship have changed, at least temporarily, how Vermonters can worship this Passover and Easter season.
But parishioners need to have faith that technology can work in their favor as they come together at the same time while also being forced apart, religious leaders from around the state said this week.
In response to COVID-19, the members of First Presbyterian Church of Barre will attend Easter service this Sunday by Zoom and telephone, as will the members of the Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Barre and the parishioners of dozens of churches statewide.
Roman Catholic Bishop Christopher Coyne will broadcast live, from Cathedral of St. Josephs in Burlington, two Easter services with Masses available on the Burlington diocese web and Facebook page.
Also, members of the Rutland Jewish Center will worship remotely.
COVID-19 has indeed changed how I and the members of St. Peters parish will celebrate Holy Week and Easter. Since we are not able to congregate, as a faith community, for the safety of one another, parishioners will be celebrating these high holy days from their homes; they will have the opportunity to view the services of the week either on TV, live-streaming or other technological means, said the Rev. Thomas Houle, or Father Tom, pastor at St. Peters Roman Catholic Church in Rutland.
This week is one of the holiest weeks of the year for Christian and Jews. Islam starts its holiest month in two weeks.
On Sunday, Christians will hold Easter Mass, which honors the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. April 8-16 is Passover, the Jewish celebration of the journey from slavery to freedom when the Israelites left Egypt. The month-long Ramadan, a time of spiritual reflection, self-improvement, and heightened devotion and worship, begins for Muslims on April 23.
In some ways, this Easter is closer to the first Easter when there was a lot of uncertainty. There is a lot of fear and anxiety in this day and age, and I suspect that was the case for the first followers of Christ, said the Rev. Carl Hilton VanOsdall, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Barre.
Easter will be the fourth service by internet for VanOsdall, who broadcasts from his porch in Barre City. Although COVID-19 has created significant challenges, he said, on the plus side, it has forced churches to seek out and find new ways to connect.
The words were using are, we are not at church, but we are still being church, VanOsdall said.
Said Rabbi Ellie Shemtov, head of the Rutland Jewish Center, Theres a joke making its way around social media that goes something like this: Passover is canceled this year because of a plague. Well, I wouldnt say Passover has been canceled, but it has certainly been waylaid by COVID-19. Our plan was to have a congregational seder (a ritual service and ceremonial dinner) on the first night of Passover, which would have brought about 60 people into our building. Instead, we Zoomed our seders both nights and found new meaning in a variety of seder rituals as well as in the story of the Exodus.
Theres a point in the seder when we recite the 10 plagues God brought down on the Egyptian taskmasters, which included frogs, boils and darkness. This year, we added an eleventh plague, the coronavirus, a plague brought down not just on the Egyptians but on the entire world, Shemtov said.
Zoom, Facebook and other internet platforms are great tools to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, but none is proving to be perfect, and each has challenges and requires a learning curve on how to best use it, said Earle Kooperkamp, pastor at Church of the Good Shepherd in Barre. Easter will be Kooperkamps fifth internet broadcast.
Among the lesson learned: Mute the congregation for much of the service to avoid dogs barking and babies crying. It is also important that parishioners who attend by video conference to remember that they are on camera. Last Sunday, one member attending by cellphone was dual tasking attending the service by smartphone and feeding his pigs.
Not sure I would say we have adjusted as a congregation, but we have definitely adapted to this new environment. We started using Zoom fairly quickly after the restrictions came down. We have had two Zoom bar mitzvahs, Zoom adult education classes, Zoom Hebrew school classes, Zoom Shabbat (Judaisms day of rest) services, and in a few weeks we will have our first Zoom board meeting. Later this month we are looking at having a Zoom Holocaust Remembrance Day service, Shemtov said.
Music is very difficult by video conference.
We tried singing and that was a total disaster, VanOsdall said. The church now provides music from one origin site only.
Another issue with video services is the loss of revenue from plate collections. The loss has been significant, said Daniel Pudvah, deacon and office manager at St. Monica Catholic Church in Barre. With 1,200 members, St. Monica is one of the largest congregations in the state. It is too early to tell whether there will be a long-term impact, Pudvah said.
Although what we are collecting is not the same as if we were holding Mass and gathering as a faith community, the understanding, the commitment and the fidelity that parishioners have towards the parish is very favorable and impressive, Father Tom said.
Technical issues aside, the biggest issue with internet services is the inability for the parishioners to meet and greet. Some of the most heartfelt services that can only be done in person, such as the washing of the feet of 12 parishioners to commemorate when Jesus washed the feet of the 12 Apostles and the Good Friday procession, were canceled Pudvah said.
Kooperkamp agrees that the loss of human contact is unfortunate.
At this time of so many people dying and so much fear, we really had no choice, Kooperkamp said. His congregation started meeting remotely before the order from Gov. Phil Scott.
As for myself, I will be celebrating these very special liturgical celebrations alone, while keeping the parishioners in prayer, as well as all of those who are suffering with the virus, those who have died of it, their families and their caregivers. This is indeed a time for all of us to internalize, to take ownership on a deeper level of what our faith means to us, how we relate to our God. In the absence of such important live celebrations and gatherings, God will continue to make himself known and present to each one of us, as we take moments of silence, reflection and quiet time, to be one with him, Father Tom said.
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