Keeping the faith: Technology helps communities find ways to worship

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Coronavirus may have closed the doors to churches and synagogues, but it’s not stopping services from being held or people helping one another.

When dire situations such as this one occur, there are any number of places or resources that people can turn to for help. With public health directives having limited gatherings to no more than 10 people, churches have had to make an adjustment.

“It’s the new world of technology,” said Father Brian Morris, chaplain at Bishop Hendricken High School and director of vocations for the Diocese of Providence since July 2019.

Morris, who was ordained in 2011, said that when he was in seminary they would often take trips to a Catholic television station in Boston to practice Masses and harmonies, but he never would have imagined he would have to hold Mass through a live stream on an iPad.

“It’s not completely foreign, but to do it in the absence of Masses, I never would have anticipated it,” Morris said Sunday as he prepared to conduct a Mass held in the Hendricken chapel and made available for viewing online.

Faith Baptist Church at 765 Commonwealth Ave. is also making the change over to electronic-based services, according to office administrator Helen Vaughn.

“We are moving to online services,” Vaughn said. “We are pre-recording Wednesday Bible study and also our pastor sermons on Sunday morning.”

Once the pandemic ends and things begin to return to normal, Faith Baptist Church plans to continue online services while returning to in person services as well. Attendance at the services is not expected to diminish.

“We are hoping to continue online but it would be live. We are hoping to do a live stream,” Vaughn said. “Our members want to come back to church. They keep asking when they can return. I don’t think we’ll see a drop off.”

Greenwood Community Church, located at 805 Main Ave., is currently preparing to broadcast its services via live stream.

It has posted a message to its members on the home page of its website, gccp.org, regarding when to expect the live stream.

“Sunday, March 29, we are working to have equipment in place to produce and provide high quality live streaming of the service of worship from our sanctuary.”

Religious leaders across the state have been forced to become more responsive, more technologically savvy, and to think far outside the box in order to continue to minister to their congregations.

The Rev. Barbara DaCosta, pastor of Oaklawn Community Baptist Church, is in the midst of formulating a plan.

“Right now,” she said, “we’ve been taking it from week to week. We’ve all been communicating with one another over the phone, texting and emailing and utilizing the website a little bit.”

“I know people are missing the physical presence of one another and it’s hard for them,” she said. “And I’m a pastor who’s very involved in visiting people, seeing them in the nursing home and hospitals. And I can’t do that right now.”

Father Peter Gower of Our Lady of Grace Church in Johnston was successful in sharing his message outdoors during the past weekend’s Masses.

He said his inspiration for a “drive-thru Mass” came to him in the middle of the night. He envisioned delivering Mass via an FM signal, the same way one would broadcast sound at the drive-in. Later that day, he purchased an FM transmitter, and spread the word that he would be holding mass from the church parking lot. Parishioners would park and listen to his message via FM channel 90.1.

His unique spin on Mass caught the eye of WPRI’s Mike Montecalvo, and soon the entire state was aware. 

“On Saturday night, we had 156 cars in the parking lot, and on Sunday morning at 10 o’clock, we had 160-165,” he said. “We calculated, and we estimate about 650 people were in attendance. We live streamed as well, and over the 4,000 people have been watching that.”

“But the most beautiful thing,” Gower added, “was at the end of Mass, the beeping of horns for a steady three minutes was just – it brought me to tears. And that there was a real joy that they were able to experience during a time when they’re not feeling joyful at all.”

Also reaching out to its members via the internet is the Chabad of Westbay Chai Center located at 3871 Post Road. Rabbi Yossi Laufer began posting messages on Facebook and through Facebook live in order to keep in contact with members during this time.

“Some messages are of inspiration and others are humor. I love humor,” Laufer said. “I believe that humor is a great medicine.” 

Coming up in two weeks is the Jewish holiday of Passover, the celebration of when the angel of death passed over the Hebrew people that were enslaved in Egypt during the time of the exodus.

During this celebration, it is customary that a seder is held. Lafeur will inform members of the synagogue that they can have a seder alone in order to remain within the 10-person limit, on through Facebook Live.

Laufer has also taken his approach to all of this a step further. He set a goal for himself. In order to abide by the advice to remain at home and only go out if need be, Laufer is helping out members of the center by delivering matzah to them in time for Passover. His goal is to deliver 1,000 pounds of matzah before Passover on Wednesday, April 8.

“My most important obligation as a rabbi is to make sure that people are safe,” Laufer said. “I have been bringing people matzah so they don’t have to go out and get it. I want everyone to have matzah for Passover.”

Laufer also has a plan for the usual Passover service that is typically held at the synagogue. He will hold a service via Facebook Live so that members of the synagogue will be able to be a part of it.

“I hope that by doing the Passover service on Facebook I will be able to bring people together during this time,” Laufer said. “I believe that in times of uncertainty it is a strong indication that something good is coming.”

Laufer has also encouraged members to visit the website chabad.org/coronavirus. On the site, members will find collections of different readings to keep them occupied while restrictions on the number of people allowed to congregate in one place remains.

He is also available to speak to anyone who would like to talk for any reason. He can be reached at Rabbiwarwick@gmai.com and you can visit his website, Rabbiwarwick.com.

With reports from Stephanie Bernaba.

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