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Religious leaders adapt to social distancing online services for Easter and Passover

Church members offered other options for holiday worship

Sam Ribakoff
Farmington Daily Times
The exterior of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Farmington on April 9, 2020.

FARMINGTON — Church pews across San Juan County will be empty Easter weekend because of ongoing public health measures to slow the person-to-person spread of the coronavirus.

But church leaders are hoping that congregants will come together using services like Zoom, Facebook and YouTube to participate in unique online religious services to celebrate the holiday this year.      

“People like to congregate. They like the fellowship, but with the way that that COVID-19 is spreading around, and especially on the Navajo Nation, I’d rather just sacrifice and do it thru Zoom and do some adjusting,” said Pastor Robert Tso at Victory Life Church in Shiprock,

Tso said he plans to film an hour-long Easter service from inside his church using his cellphone while sitting down “in a teacher-like setting.”

Tso said he can understand why people might feel stressed and anxious during this time, especially his congregants living on the Navajo Nation who will have to spend the Easter holiday under a 57-hour curfew mandated by the Navajo Department of Health starting on April 10. But Tso intends to continue the celebratory tone of the holiday while praying for the health of his congregation.

“As believers, we always have to have some joy and some victory inside of us consistently,” Tso said. “But, of course, there will be things in the message that need to be talked about, like social distancing and hygiene, washing your hands and staying inside.”

The Rev. Megan Cullip of the First Presbyterian Church of Farmington also is planning to livestream her church’s Easter service or prerecord the service and post the video on Facebook or Youtube. Either way, she wants to acknowledge and incorporate the current mood into the more traditional aspects of the service.  

A sign welcomes students and other community members at First Presbyterian Church of Farmington on March 16, 2020.

“We’re doing a more somber, more toned-down thing.” Cullip said.

Cullip said instead of organ music, she and a few parishioners from the church, who she clarified would be standing at least six feet apart, would be performing a capella songs.

Cullip said that deacons from the church had been calling members of the church to make sure they understood how to access and use Zoom and other services to be able to watch the service. Members who request paper copies of the service will have them sent to them, Cullip added.

Sacred Heart Catholic Church’s Father Tim Farrell said he is going to be livestreaming his service on Facebook.

Farrell said approximately 900 people, including a viewer from Australia, watched the church's Palm Sunday livestream service, which Farrell recorded from his own cellphone.

“It’s not the same. They’re not being given the Holy Eucharist, but we’ll do that as soon as this passes,” Farrell said, “We’re being carried through by the goodness of people, and the grace of God. So far, so good, but we have a long way to go.”

Passover

Another spring religious holiday that has had to be adapted to public health measures this year is the Jewish holiday of Passover.

Beginning on the night of April 8 and ending on April 16 this year, Passover is a celebration of the Jewish people’s liberation from slavery in ancient Egypt.

An important part of the celebration of the holiday is a ritual dinner called a seder, during which Jewish families tell the story of Passover through both song and food that symbolizes the story itself, like matzah, an unleavened bread that symbolizes the speed at which Jews had to leave Egypt to escape slavery — faster than it took to wait for bread to finish baking.

Spiritual leader Lisa Smith concludes evening Rosh Hashanah services at Congregation Har Shalom in Durango in the fall of 2019.

“We have to have faith like we did 3,000 years ago,” said Lisa Smith, the spiritual director at Congregation Har Shalom in Durango, Colorado. “We have to have faith in technology now.”

Smith said she’ll conduct Passover services over Zoom for her congregation.

“I don’t know how this will turn out, but this needs to happen. We need to be together. It was created in haste, kind of like the story of Exodus,” Smith said, referring to the Book of Exodus, the book in the Hebrew bible that describes the story of the Jewish people’s liberation from slavery in Egypt. “Of course, this is not the only thing that’s happened in the world. It’s a pandemic, the whole world is suffering. But because we’re all in this together, I hope we can come out of it together and come out with more empathy. The world is mostly made of the good. I hope the good prevails.”

Sam Ribakoff is a visual journalist for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-333-5283 or via email at sribakoff@daily-times.com.

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