What does a religious service look like in a pandemic? For members of Covenant Church and St. Dimitrie Romanian Orthodox Church, it is sitting down to watch a prerecorded service when it’s available online. For members of the Congregational Church of Easton, Christ Church, and B’nai Israel, it is joining in a live videoconference at a designated time. Jesse Lee Methodist Church of Easton has joined with Nichols Methodist Church of Trumbull to offer live videoconference services, too.
Notre Dame of Easton could not be reached for an interview. But according to the church’s FaceBook page, public Masses will resume on June 22 with precautions in place. To learn more about the process of reopening and how Masses will be offered, you can click this link.
Houses of worship are, of course, places for worship. But they are also places for community gatherings and fellowship. However, in March, as public spaces were ordered shut and stay-at-home orders went into effect, churches, synagogues, and other religious institutions found themselves creating new ways to continue providing weekly services and other activities for members.
Both prerecorded and live video calls come with their own sets of challenges. B’nai Israel’s Rabbi Evan Shultz described Zoom fatigue, noting that an initial increase to weekly attendance of various programs had started to dip. The Rev. David Piscatelli of Nichols Methodist Church and Tracy Carlucci, music director of Christ Church, described a Zoom outage that affected people from the United Kingdom to the East Coast, causing delays in their ability to worship together live one week. On the other hand, prerecorded services can inhibit a faith leader’s ability to respond to current events, as the Rev. Cary Slater of Covenant Church mentioned, in light of the protests across the country.
In addition to adapting to new technologies, the faith leaders find themselves adapting their preaching styles to suit the new medium by which they reach their congregations. “It’s definitely weird preaching to a camera,” said Slater. “To do a video service, people tell you you want to talk as if you’re talking to one person — I’ve tried to learn — hey, I’m just having a conversation with one person instead of projecting. It’s just different.”
Despite Zoom fatigue, most religious institutions in and around Easton experienced an increase in the number of worshippers attending virtual services each week. Piscatelli described being surprised by the increase in attendance but pointed out, “Many of the shut-ins who could not or were unable to get to church have now been able to attend every single week … it was unexpected but wonderful.” Father George Coca at St. Dimitrie explained that since their services are prerecorded, people who would otherwise not physically come to the building can view the videos; their recorded videos have garnered views from people across the globe, from Africa to the Philippines, he said.
There is some difficulty in capturing the true weekly attendance. As the Rev. Amanda Ostrove of the Congregational Church explained, “We don’t always know how many people are joining us from each home on a Sunday. Some weeks it’s one person per home and others there are three or more.” Other churches echoed this sentiment.
As Easton and Connecticut begin to reopen, faith leaders are deciding how to proceed. All of those interviewed for this story are planning to continue virtual services for some period of time. Many worshippers are eager to get back to in-person services and fellowship. However, it will likely take time before any buildings can open to full capacity, and many people are not yet comfortable at the thought of heading into a synagogue or church.
Despite the many challenges posed by working under stay-at-home orders and shifting to virtual services, the faith leaders of Easton have persisted and demonstrated that worshipping — even at a distance — can still be a communal, rewarding activity.