NUTLEY, NJ - While the COVID-19 pandemic has us all shut-in, locked away from the outside world, except to venture out now and then for essentials, technology is bringing people together to worship.
Several of the local houses of worship are still gathering for services, just a bit differently now. Instead of meeting in their sanctuaries, they are worshiping virtually through Facebook Live, Zoom or another platform such as YouTube.
Many reverends have turned their homes into makeshift sanctuaries. The Rev. David LeDuc of Vincent United Methodist Church in Nutley transformed his basement, using the cross from the church’s chapel and the candle sticks from the sanctuary. The Rev. Jill Fenske of Franklin Reformed Church in Nutley turned her home office into a sanctuary and the ministers at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair (UUCM) have converted their living room.
Nutley’s Grace Episcopal, Franklin Reformed and Holy Trinity Lutheran churches and Bloomfield’s Brookdale Reformed Church, hold their Sunday services through Zoom. However, Grace Church pre-recorded their High Holy services in the sanctuary such as Good Friday and Easter. Congregation Shomrei Emunah in Montclair holds their Sharing Shabbat on Saturday mornings on YouTube.
Vincent Church streams services through Facebook Live at 10 a.m. on Sundays and UUCM pre-records the services and premieres them on Facebook Live at 9:30 a.m. on Sundays. “It’s going good once we got the technology issues worked out,” LeDuc said.
Both Nutley’s St. Mary’s and Holy Family Roman Catholic churches are not holding any masses at this time, however the Rev. Richard Berbary of St. Mary’s Church has been recording homilies and messages to the parish on YouTube.
Berbary is stressing to his parishioners to view Pope Francis’s Sunday mass on TV or watch Cardinal Joseph William Tobin, archbishop of Newark on YouTube. “We are pushing it on our people because it’s so well done,” he said.
However, St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Bloomfield records their masses on Saturday night. The Rev. Lawrence J. Fama said they perfect the sound quality. The YouTube videos are posted on their website by 7:30 a.m. each Sunday and taken down at noon on Friday. “This is our fifth week doing this and we were not ready for this with the technology, this is a learning curve,” he said.
Worship services are not the only part of the church available, religious education programs have also moved online. St. Thomas provides remote learning to their parochial school and Confraternity of Christian Doctrine classes. Grace Church and UUCM hold their RE programs through Zoom on Sundays after the service. Vincent Church’s Confirmation class also holds Zoom meetings and the Sunday school class will soon have an informal meeting. LeDuc said usually the RE classes are offered during the service, however now families can watch together. The superintendent of Vincent Church’s Sunday School Michael Blanchard, a parent of three school age children, decided to email the lessons not give more stress to the families. “Sometimes less is more,” said LeDuc. Adult Bible Study is also held through Zoom at almost all the area houses of worship.
Many are also using Zoom to gather in fellowship. LeDuc said his congregation “gathers” after the service to reflect. UUCM has continued to hold their coffee hour —Connection Café after the service where members and the reverends check-in with one another, then move into smaller break-out groups to reflect on the question given during the service.
Brookdale Reformed Church also reflects together after their service. “We changed things up and ask pondering questions at the end of the service, and we discuss things together for about 15 to 20 minutes,” said the Rev. Susan Dorward.
Other activities outside of worship and learning are also held to keep their members engaged and help break up the week. St. Mary’s has a Facebook prayer chain and the youth leaders are conducting Zoom meetings. UUCM moved its covenant groups to Zoom and included a Drop-in group and added Soulful Sundown, a special program on Friday nights where the weekly format may include a vespers services, music hour, sing-a-longs, or poetry slams.
Although for the time being they can no longer gather together in person, the houses of worship are finding ways to engage with their members and making it work. Members of Vincent Church who moved as far as Northern Ireland are now joining the service. “I think it’s working well, quite a number of our congregation are tuning in. People who moved out of the area [...] joined us. […] It has really expanded our reach,” said LeDuc. He added, “Its different, it’s got its pluses and its negatives, you can’t see people face to face, you can’t hug, you are not physically in a room together lifting your voices in song. [But] the gratitude, to have the technology which allows us to worship God together to despite the horrific pandemic.”
Fenske said, “I think it gathers people and that is what is helpful. For people to be connected to one another and this works for that on Sunday, to have people articulate their prayer requests is a way for people to be connected to one another.
“It has been very engaging. Quite surprised on how we are able to keep connected and still make it meaningful,” said Dorward.
The Rev. Anya Sammler-Michael, co-senior minister of UUCM said, “The opportunity to connect virtually is making clear to me that we need one another and that community is necessary for our survival. The joy that envelops us when we witness a member singing during a virtual worship or when a family's one-year-old baby joins a Zoom meeting is enough to convince me that my first priority as a minister is to foster connection, now and always.”
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