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Religious groups make online connections


Like many churches, synagogues and other religious organizations, Salem United Church of Christ in Doylestown has turned to the internet to reach its congregation.

Last Sunday, for the church’s first live-streamed service, from the sanctuary, with only the pastor and a musician in attendance, far more people than typically attend weekly worship services – 2,500 compared to 100 on average – “attended” church at Salem.

While the number of people who tuned in for the live-streamed service “kind of blew me away,” said the Rev. David Green, pastor, “It kind of makes sense.

“People have more time on their hands to watch, and they’re also looking for something positive and helpful to listen to and watch,” he said. Following the news of the coronavirus, Green said, “It’s kind of this drum-beat of doom and gloom.”

Area religious leaders know finding something positive in the midst of a global pandemic that has vastly altered everyday life for the foreseeable future and has many consumed with fear and worry – about their health, both physical and financial – is difficult for their followers, and the community at large.

They urge people to keep connected with family and friends, by phone and online, and to make new connections with those who may be alone.

As Rabbi Sigal Brier of Temple Judea in Doylestown told her congregation in her weekly email message, “We are ALL in this together.”

“We continue to pray and meditate for the well-being of all, but we can’t leave it in the hands of God alone,” she said. “This pandemic is in all of our hands to make better. We are in each-others’ hands to protect and to care for. Washing hands and honoring the requirement of safe physical distancing is a holy act at this time of pandemic...Each human being is sacred.”

Temple Judea members are gathering virtually for meetings, Torah Study and virtual services. Brier said. She urged congregants to stay even more connected to friends and loved ones and to utilize meditation, breathing techniques, conversation, connection, being in nature, staying active, creating art, gardening and more to nourish their souls and their resiliency.

“As people of faith we need community and the presence of each other on life’s journey, said the Rev. Michael Ruk, pastor of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in New Hope. “We need to find ways to connect either through social media or an old-fashioned phone call. Those simple acts can be the much-needed medicine for these times.”

Added Ruk, “The greatest act of charity we can do at this moment is to reach out to our neighbor, known or unknown. The gift of this time might be a return to appreciate true community.”

St. Philip’s is streaming on Facebook Live at least two services per day and has created a “mini monastery” of folks from the parish, county, and the around the world. “They come together to begin and end their day in prayer and community. Sunday Eucharists are being streamed at the normal times to create a sense of continuity.”

The Rev. Monsignor Joseph P. Gentili, pastor Our Lady of Guadalupe in Buckingham, urged parishioners to follow the advice given by government officials, and to “sit back and reflect on what is most important in our lives.”

So too did said the Rev. Robert Ianelli, parochial vicar, OLG, who said, “The coronavirus pandemic has occurred during the season of Lent, a time when Christians focus on the basics of the spiritual life: prayer, fasting, and works of charity.

“Given the severity of the pandemic, people all over the world are faced with simplifying their lives, getting ‘back to the basics’ so to speak, as families come together at home and public cancellation of gatherings abound. This challenging time can be an opportunity to share each other’s burdens, ‘carry each other’s crosses’ as we say in the Christian tradition, and focus on what truly matters in life.”

OLG is offering online Mass each Sunday, taped in the church, with its parish priests and musicians. In addition, the church is open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 8 a.m. to noon Fridays, so the faithful have opportunities to pray, and instruction on how to make a Spiritual Communion at home are on its website. A parish Lenten Preaching Series is being videotaped and emailed to all parishioners and is available on the OLG website.

In an email to parishioners, the Rev. Ken Brabazon, pastor, St. Isidore Quakertown, encouraged them to visit the parish website. He said the parish is offering devotional prayers after the streamed Masses, and he said parishioners can find the text that will be used for the praying of the Stations of the Cross, taking place at 3 p.m. Fridays.

Green of Salem UCC said his church community is also connecting by holding meetings and book clubs online, and this week is beginning “David’s Dining Room,” a virtual meeting where people can share how they are doing, and what they are doing to adapt during this time of social isolation.

He said the church also has created a list of people with health or mobility issues and a list of people who have volunteered to deliver groceries to them, if needed. He said some of the folks on the list of volunteers are from the church, while others are his neighbors, just wanting to help others.

Like Salem, Kehilat HaNahar in New Hope, has seen an increase in “attendance” via its now entirely online format.

“We are getting more attendees for everything, partly because people are eager to socialize, but also because they can join us from a distance,” said Steve Fox, KHN board president. “I’m sure the legacy of this will be that we incorporate more remote opportunities into our programming.

Among the temple’s online offerings is a Cyber Seder, which Fox said, “I anticipate will be ... a strange, new, and perhaps chaotic experience, but it will be better to share the holiday with the community than be stuck in a narrow place.”