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Gathering in pandemic is different but still possible, local religious leaders say

Gathering in pandemic is different but still possible, local religious leaders say

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For those who observe Jewish, Christian and Islamic holidays this is one of the most significant months of the year.

Despite the pandemic, people are still finding ways to celebrate. 

“It speaks also to how important it is to people that they do celebrate this and they do get together,” said Rabbi Bruce Alpert.

Passover is the most observed of all Jewish holidays. Members of his congregation at Beth Israel in Wallingford were planning to have Passover seder through Zoom meetings with their families.

Alpert said the holiday is very family-centered. It commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. Part of the story of freedom is that of the 10 plagues which came as the Pharaoh refused to release the slaves. Other rabbis are finding significance in the story as we experience a present-day “plague.”

“A lot of colleagues see strong parallels (and) view it as an opportunity for people to express their anxieties and their sense of confusion at the state of the world,” Alpert said. 

Rabbi Alana Wasserman, with Gishrei Shalom Jewish Congregation in Southington, said at the end of Passover seder people say “next year in Jerusalem.” This year she planned to also add “and next year all of us together and healthy.”

The congregation of about 40 planned to hold a virtual seder this year. 

For Holy Week worship at Zion Lutheran Church in Southington, Pastor Jeff Stalley said he planned a live Zoom Maundy Thursday night worship and recorded services over the weekend.

Stalley started at Zion Lutheran Church just two weeks before the church was forced to close because of the pandemic. He is getting to know his new congregation through weekly online get-togethers.

Meriden’s First United Methodist Church Pastor Ric Hanse said since the gathering ban the church has started a long list of new initiatives to stay connected. One was an effort to collect supplies for members dealing with food insecurity. They are calling it the “First United Methodist Pantry.” 

Donations have also moved online or by mail for many churches that would normally collect weekly offerings during service. Hanse said his church finalized a new online donation system the day before the church closed. 

Many religious entities are turning to virtual meeting options like Zoom and Google Hangouts to still hold worship services, meetings, and casual meet-ups. Some hold live worship services, others choose to post pre-recorded ones. Most have committee meetings virtually. 

“It’s forced us to be creative about ways we do worship,” Stalley said. 

Wajid Ahmed, public relations director for the Connecticut Chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Meriden, said Islam encourages followers to pray five times a day.

“In our mosque we basically had people coming in five times a day,” he said.

Now the community stays in touch with various WhatsApp groups and frequent live video meetings. 

They still plan to observe Ramadan, which starts April 23 and lasts until May 23. Leaders are working on scripture readings for half an hour before and after fasting starts and breaks each day.

“Prayers can be done anywhere,” Ahmed said. “The challenge, in terms of the community aspect of it, is that it’s not happening face to face.

“This year we’re going to be reflecting even more, because of how we’re all going to be united by this virus,”he added. “We need to be closer together by staying apart.”

During normal years, the mosque would have open-door gatherings for the general public or hold interfaith events. This year they hope to still connect virtually somehow. 

Alpert said after the gathering bans have passed, his synagogue will probably still do some kind of mixed-worship, offering an online option to the physical one. 

Since putting services online, he’s found past congregation members who have moved away or friends in distant places have been able to connect.

“Overall it’s very challenging but there are some bright spots in this too,” Alpert said.

bwright@record-journal.com203-317-2316Twitter: @baileyfaywright

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