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V.S. religious leaders strive to keep the faith during pandemic

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As the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage, religion has gone viral in ways that many have never seen before. Virtual memberships have skyrocketed, as many congregations in New York live stream their worship services, in compliance with the ban large gatherings initiated by governor Cuomo in a bid to slow the rate of infection. 

In Valley Stream, worship services, bible studies, prayer times and fellowship meetings at a number of houses of worship have been moved to strictly online platforms, such as Zoom, Facebook and YouTube. 

While many religious leaders said they miss the togetherness and community that in-person interaction and worshipping brings, they are striving to adapt while encouraging their congregants to do the same. 

“I’m not saying God caused this, but I still believe God is in control despite what’s going on,” said the Rev. Gertude Nation of Grace United Methodist Church in response to the pandemic. “... We don’t know when in-person worship services will resume … but, people should pray and read their bibles and fast because it’s important.”  

Nation said she has found the switch to online services challenging because of the varying levels of computer literacy among her congregants. They have also expressed to her that they miss the camaraderie of in-person meetings. 

However, even with these concerns, Nation said she continues to remind her congregants to maintain spiritual practices at home.

For the Masjid Hamza, sermons, speeches and recitations are now done online, and members have been advised to perform their daily prayers at home with their families. 

“It has been difficult to keep people motivated, but we are telling them not to lose hope,” Imam Kashif Aziz said. “We miss the spiritual uplifting that in-person meetings give and it makes us cry at times that we have been deprived of this, but everything is decreed by the Lord.”

As Aziz continues to motivate his congregants to stay hopeful and faithful, he has noticed that more people in crisis have been reaching out to him as the pandemic takes its toll on them emotionally and spiritually, and as a result he has increased his ministry hours.  

“It might seem like we are at home now, but imams are constantly extending out positive energy to encourage others, so mentally we are in overdrive,” he said. “People need more religious guidelines and financial help now, so we are spending more time and energy meeting these needs.” 

The Valley Stream Jewish Center, also known as the Temple Gates of Zion, has also switched to having online Sabbath services through a video chat service called Zoom. 

“We haven’t fully absorbed the crisis here,” Rabbi Yechiel Buchband said. “In Jewish custom, there’s a lot of touching and hugging, but we can no longer do those interactions.”

Usually in the middle of a typical worship service, Buchband will take out the synagogue’s Torah scroll, and members of the congregation will either kiss it or kiss their hand first and then touch the scroll. At the end of service, people will kiss or hug to greet their neighbors and wish each other a peaceful Sabbath. 

“This is difficult because touch is so ingrained and part of our services,” he said. “It’s all a part of the natural experience. Those things are second nature, but we are not touching anymore.”

Since the change to online services the Valley Stream Presbytarian Church has noticed an increase in membership because they have been able to reach more people who are living outside of Valley Stream.

“We want to keep people connected so there is no loneliness and every time we meet online, we help each other push through the next moment of anxiety,” the Rev. Kymberly Clemons-Jones said. “This is a time where we are all being tested and we need each other to help turn our attention to God.”