By Lauren Monsen

With the new coronavirus upending daily life, houses of worship throughout the United States are altering their practices to meet the spiritual needs of congregants.

Gatherings for worship and Quran recitations have moved online, to websites or Facebook pages. Churches, mosques and synagogues have set up phone lines for members to call and listen to prayers. James Forsyth, the senior pastor of McLean Presbyterian Church in Virginia, says these actions are a way to spread hope at a time when it is needed more than ever.

While ever-growing segments of the U.S. population are advised to stay at home, even small groups affiliated with faith communities can meet via the Internet. The Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) Center, also in Virginia, have not missed a beat. Boy Scout Troop 786 uses Facebook to share Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance on COVID-19 and discuss ways to practice the scout values of being “helpful,” “friendly,” “clean” and “kind” during the pandemic.

Scouts and scout leaders from Troop 786 share how they are staying productive during the pandemic. (© All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS))

With local businesses shuttered and many people suddenly out of work, congregants are delivering food and soap to the doorsteps of vulnerable neighbors, including the elderly. “We want our church to be a clear picture of God’s love across our city during these days,” said David Platt, pastor of McLean Bible Church, in Virginia. “We don’t want to isolate people who are in need.”

Through its Deacons’ Fund, McLean Presbyterian Church covers bills for those hit hard by COVID-19’s economic punch, and ADAMS Center offers similar emergency financial support.

Members of McLean Bible Church distribute items to those in need. (© McLean Bible Church)

Faith communities are nimbly adapting to day-by-day changes in stay-at-home guidance. Travis Worthington, a pastor of Nova Church, a Pentacostal Christian church, said that while the congregation’s mission is to “‘Create Change and Spread Light,’ we still believe that we can ‘Create Change and Not Spread COVID-19.'”

At St. Edward the Confessor Catholic Church in Bowie, Maryland, Father Scott Holmer is running a drive-thru confessional so penitents can be absolved of their sins. Holmer sits in his church’s parking lot at specific times each day, and parishioners can drive up — maintaining a hygienic 2-meter distance between themselves and their pastor — to confess their sins. A seminarian directs traffic.

Faith leaders have also been making special arrangements for major religious holidays this spring.

McLean Presbyterian Church has moved its worship services online. At right, senior pastor James Forsyth preaches in an empty sanctuary for an online audience. (© McLean Presbyterian Church)

On Easter, which fell on April 12, Nova Church delivered communion through contactless pickup points.

Rabbi David Kalender of the Congregation Olam Tikvah, an egalitarian Conservative synagogue in Fairfax, Virginia, said that Passover this year would feature small family groups rather than large Seder gatherings. He posted a video to congregants with advice on preparation. “In times of plenty and times of challenge, we will still join in the unbroken chain of our tradition,” he said.

Rizwan Jaka, who chairs the ADAMS Center’s board of trustees, said that if stay-at-home orders are extended, the mosque will offer online Ramadan programs beginning in late April.

Platt, of McLean Bible Church, sees a silver lining in the prospect of virtual services. On Easter, he said, he could offer encouragement to regular attendees “while spreading God’s love to many people who might not otherwise come to a church.”

Banner image: Father Scott Holmer of St. Edward the Confessor Catholic Church makes the sign of the cross while holding confession in the church parking lot March 20 in Bowie, Maryland. He wears a blindfold to give penitents anonymity. (© Rob Carr/Getty Images)