There’s no denying that the COVID-19 crisis has caused uncertainty, fear and anxiety about what the future holds. In worrying times like these, people often seek out hope and support from local faith communities.
Because of Gov. Eric Holcomb’s stay-at-home order and the continued importance of social distancing, belonging to a faith community has taken a new form. This is particularly relevant this month as Passover, Easter and Ramadan all take place during April.
In Bloomington, faith communities have stepped up by continuing to support their congregations and the city as a whole while keeping people safe. Between online meetings, food drives and providing a continued source of hope and community, religious leaders have been doing what they can to bring hope to people in a time when many are suffering and feeling alone.
Keeping people safe means using new tools for support. For Rabbi Brian Besser of Congregation Beth Shalom and many other leaders, regular services have transitioned to using live video streaming.
“Well of course we’re putting a lot of our activities online,” Besser said. “And so for example, tomorrow, since we can’t meet physically for the community Seder, and normally that event we often have sixty, eighty, a hundred people there, we’re using Zoom technology.”
With new challenges, though, comes a new opportunity for connection for those who have moved far away or are housebound but still wish to participate.
"I actually think that there is a silver lining,” Besser said. “We can actually stay connected and in a way we can even broaden our connection that way.”
Rev. Jimmy Moore, a pastor at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, said his church wants to prepare its congregation for what’s to come in the COVID-19 crisis.
“In New York right now — and we have people connected there, right — the experience of mourning and grieving is going to become more intense as we move through this time," Moore said. "So on Easter you’ll have both the joy of the resurrection theme and that this is really hard and heartbreaking.”
The timing of Easter in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis weighs particularly heavily on churches, which still must pay staff despite financial difficulties. This has led some to apply for support under the CARES Act, Moore said.
The story of Patient 31, a woman who led to more than 5,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 through her church in South Korea, has become a warning to American congregations.
Unfortunately, some churches have recklessly refused to close their doors either out of a belief that their attendance is protected by the First Amendment or by God’s providence.
The pandemic is especially challenging for those without reliable access to groceries or supplies. Thankfully, many faith communities and nonprofit organizations have worked to provide much-needed support.
“We’ve had a group of volunteers who have just kind of stepped up also to offer if people don’t feel comfortable going to the grocery store or something like that, helping them out,” said Rev. Patrick Hyde, the director of campus ministry at St. Paul’s Catholic Center.
Hyde said that, instead of trying to reinvent new ways to serve the Bloomington community, the Catholic Center has directed eager volunteers to a variety of nonprofit organizations already at work in Monroe County.
Although religious services may look and feel different from living room couches instead of church pews, the importance that faith has in many people’s lives hasn’t wavered. We should feel reassured that the leaders of our local faith communities will continue to find ways to serve those in need and remind us of brighter days to come.
Everett Kalman (he/him) is a junior studying law and public policy and is the vice president of external affairs for Culture of Care at IU. He plans on practicing immigration law in the future.