Keeping the faith: Churches go digital during virus crisis

Keeping the faith: Churches go digital during virus crisis

Rev. Kip Rush delivers his sermon in a sanctuary filled with mostly empty pews during a service at Brenthaven Cumberland Presbyterian Church Sunday, March 15, 2020, in Brentwood, Tenn. The church decided to broadcast the service instead of holding a service with the entire congregation because of the coronavirus. (Credit: Mark Humphrey/AP.)

The doors were locked at Saint Edith Stein Church in Brockton last Sunday, as a Catholic Mass took place inside without the hundreds of congregants who normally show up for the noontime services in Cape Verdean Creole. It was just a priest, a camera, the choir and a few church members to assist with readings from the Bible.

BROCKTON, Massachusetts — The doors were locked at Saint Edith Stein Church in Brockton last Sunday, as a Catholic Mass took place inside without the hundreds of congregants who normally show up for the noontime services in Cape Verdean Creole.

It was just a priest, a camera, the choir and a few church members to assist with readings from the Bible. And while many members of the parish got word that Cardinal Sean O’Malley of the Archdiocese of Boston had canceled in-person worship due to the coronavirus outbreak, some of the Cape Verdean faithful in Brockton came knocking on the large wooden doors of Saint Edith Stein, only to get turned away, a few with tears in their eyes.

“It was kind of heartbreaking, telling them you can’t come in for Sunday Mass,” said Councilor-at-large Moises Rodrigues, the former mayor of Brockton, who is also a youth group director at Saint Edith Stein and an employee of the Archdiocese of Boston. “It was difficult for me. It was difficult for the priest and everyone else to say, ‘No, go away, we can’t let you in. We have to shut this thing down because of this virus.’ When you are dealing with folks who come from a country that’s 90 plus percent Catholic, Sunday services are a special day for them.”

Throughout the country, houses of worship are being forced to close their doors in an effort to comply with public health guidelines to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. In the Brockton area, churches like Saint Edith Stein are striving to stay connected now more than ever, taking their Sunday services online with live streaming or recorded services that are uploaded to the internet.

Rodrigues said his church is recording the Cape Verdean Creole language Mass and putting it on Facebook afterwards, while also trying to get it on public access television in the city. Even so, it’s just not the same, Rodrigues said, as the Sunday services and the gatherings that typically take place afterwards at Saint Edith Stein are also a source of community news, social interaction and affection. Beyond that, the Catholic churchgoers are being denied the Eucharist, the consecrated wafer and wine, consumed as a holy sacrament, within which Jesus is present, according to church teachings.

“It’s not the same,” Rodrigues said. “It almost feels like you’re watching a TV show, versus being at a church service.”

At the Brockton Covenant Church, a small evangelical covenant church that rents space from the First Evangelical Lutheran Church, pastor Dan Lee said they are using the Zoom video conferencing app and Facebook Live simultaneously for Bible study and church services.

“It was a learning curve on my side,” said Lee, who is interacting with his church members from his home in Hyde Park.

Lee said that now, more than ever, it’s important that church members stay connected, while “social distancing” practices prevent them from gathering in person. Lee said their Christian faith is a source of strength, and the church is doing its best to help those who have lost work and wages as as result of the coronavirus outbreak, through the Brockton Covenant Church’s community care fund.

“I think it’s important for people not to lose their hope and not to be overwhelmed by fear,” Lee said. “When things like this happen, people reflect on their lives. I think the church being available to them is very important. We have to be creative to still be available for those who are looking for answers and looking for comfort.”

Pastor Manny Daphnis, of Restoration Community Church, which is a nondenominational church across the street from Signature Healthcare Brockton Hospital, said he’s using Facebook and a video platform called Church Online to broadcast church services. Daphnis has also been taking to Facebook Live to share daily scripture readings and lessons with his congregation of more than 300 active members.

“There’s no replacement for an actual physical gathering, but we’re fortunate enough that there is at least some mechanism to come together and share God’s grace and word with God’s people,” Daphnis said. “In times of trouble, I just think it’s so incredibly important. We’ve got to come together. That togetherness is powerful.”

Daphnis said his church is also trying to be a source of charity for members of the community in need of help amid the coronavirus crisis.

“There are those in our congregation dealing with homelessness,” he said. “Those are the folks we’ve reached out to the most, the homeless, the single mothers and the elderly. … We’ve helped families with gift cards and groceries.”

Ann-Marie Illsley, acting associate pastor at Christ Congregational Church in Brockton, said her church partnered with its fellow United Church of Christ congregation in Stoughton, to stream Sunday services live on YouTube and on the church website. They’ve got a skeleton crew, she said, of musicians, technology specialists and pastors broadcasting the services from their sanctuary on Pleasant Street in Brockton.

“I think we want to do everything we can to make sure people are safe and we’re socially distant,” Illsley said. “What we want to avoid is that people become isolated.”

At Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Catholic church in Bridgewater, Sunday Mass is canceled, but parishioners are still coming in very small numbers for adoration of the Eucharist from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. each day in the lower church on the basement level. Aaron Durocher, pastoral assistant there, said parishioners are watching Sunday services broadcast on the CatholicTV Network. Father Bill Devine and the church’s parochial vicar, Father Jason Giombetti, have also been using the parish Facebook group to share recordings of reflections and prayers for the holy season of Lent.

“This is sort of unprecedented,” Durocher said. “It’s really challenging for the faithful. … We’re trying to nourish the laity as much as we can spiritually by keeping the church open and providing Eucharistic adoration daily. … We’re recording a video reflection for them to watch while at home. It’s a way to stay connected within the faith community. It’s a way to be nourished on a certain level. It doesn’t go as deep as receiving the Eucharist personally, but it is nourishing to hear from our local spiritual leaders.”


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