Although houses of worship in East Meadow were permitted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to reopen as long ago as June 6, religious officials from across different faiths have reported a similar trend throughout the summer: Many parishioners still prefer to worship from home.
“I’m still livestreaming services, because a lot of people aren’t comfortable going back yet,” said the Rev. Anthony Giordano, of Calvary Lutheran Church in East Meadow. “And we’re finding that there are lot of people who are attending now that weren’t going to services before.”
Hussain Ahmad, president of the Long Island Muslim Society, in East Meadow, shared a similar perspective. Although the mosque reduced its capacity from 126 to 60, there are usually only about 15 people praying at a time. The biggest gathering the mosque sees is about 40 parishioners each Friday for Jumma Mubarak, the holiest day of the week in the Islamic faith.
“People have gotten used to joining in to prayers and other programs on Zoom,” Ahmad said, “so there wasn’t much of a rush to come back.”
And at Temple B’nai Torah, in Wantagh, to which many East Meadow residents belong, all services and programs are still hosted remotely via Zoom, though the office remains open for clergy. “We believe that at this time, the Jewish values of saving lives, preventing danger, and responsibility to our neighbors demand that we maintain our distance as a religious community,” reads an explanation on the synagogue’s website.
Giordano said that there are varying reasons why Calvary parishioners have been tuning in to services on Zoom rather than attending in person. Some are older or have weaker immune systems, and others are former members of the church who no longer live locally and would not otherwise have the option to take part in Giordano’s services. “It’s a great way to feel connected to people who we wouldn’t see before,” he said.
Giordano was diagnosed with Covid-19 in mid-March, and had symptoms including fever, muscle aches and exhaustion. He began recovering after about a week, but felt extreme fatigue for another month, and couldn’t focus on any activity for more than a few hours at a time before needing to lie down.
Because he is Calvary’s only pastor, he had to shut down the church, offering worshippers no virtual alternatives, until late April. He began resuming activity by recording messages and sending them to parishioners.
“I kept thinking we would all be together in a couple months,” he said. “I wasn’t thinking of long-term solutions.”
By May, Giordano enlisted the help of a friend who is also a priest, and began holding services again over Zoom. Then, on June 13, the church reopened at 20 percent capacity, reducing its number of worshippers per service from 250 to roughly 50.
Some of the new safety measures he put in place included a hand sanitizing station at the entrance of the sanctuary, with extra masks and gloves for those who didn’t bring their own. Instead of passing collection plates, guests can drop donations off as they leave. They still participate in the sign of peace, during which they would typically shake hands, hug and greet their neighbors, but now they simply wave.
And guests still take part in Communion, but Giordano distributes it from a machine he calls the “Pez dispenser.” Purchased from a church-supply store, it allows the clergy to dispense wafers into parishioners’ hands without contact.
“The church is a very warm, friendly place, and the lack of physical contact is disappointing, but it’s what we have to do to protect everyone,” Giordano said. “The love we have for each other and our community has not disappeared.”