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Baldwin houses of worship shift to virtual services

Worship in the time of coronavirus


Baldwin houses of worship are figuring out how to adjust to the unprecedented consequences of the global coronavirus pandemic: Public gathering is no longer allowed.

For Catholics, no further public liturgies are permitted until further notice, the Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre announced on March 24. That includes funerals, weddings, baptisms and any other cause for gathering people together in Catholic churches, other than private prayer.

Following instructions from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, churches can remain open for private prayer, while maintaining the proper precautions regarding distancing and groups of people congregating. Emergency sacraments are permitted, but only while exercising the proper health precautions. Burial services may be offered if possible while observing all safe distance precautions, and should be done at the grave site, according to the diocese. Wakes and funeral Masses should be postponed. 

“In spite of all the bad things that we keep on hearing about in the news, there are good things that are happening, and I think we want to think about that,” said the Rev. Nicholas Zientarski, of St. Christopher’s Church, referring to a message that Pope Francis recently promoted known as Urbi et Orbi.

“Jesus is with us, he’s not abandoned us, and we’re on the journey together,” Zientarski said. “It’s good news. Good things are happening, people are coming together, families are coming together. It’s not all dark and bleak.”

The pastor added that if anyone wants to speak with a priest, “we’re here.” Additionally, a recording of Sunday Mass has been posted on the parish website at www.stchris.com.

Rabbi Royi Shaffin, of the South Baldwin Jewish Center, said his congregation is following federal, state and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, and staying in touch with families through telephone and email.

“We pray that our elected officials and medical researchers will find ways to provide cures, vaccines and medical equipment so that we can combat and defeat this dreadful disease,” Shaffin said. “We pray for those who have been afflicted and for the souls and families of those who have been taken from us. We pray that God will bless our medical professionals and keep them from harm.”

Online programming is expected to be expanded in the coming days.

“We have faith that our society can be led out of our slavery to COVID-19, just as the Children of Israel were led out of bondage in times of old in the Passover story,” Shaffin said. “We wish the Jewish community a Happy Passover, and we wish a Happy Easter to all of our Christian neighbors. ‘May the Lord bless you and protect you (Numbers 6:24).’”

Clergy members are planning for the upcoming holidays of Passover and Easter, as well.

St. Christopher’s Church still invites people to visit during Holy Week — the church will be decorated and prepared for such visits. On Holy Thursday, the Eucharist will be exposed for people to pray.

The First Presbyterian Church of Baldwin, led by the Rev. Adam Fischer, has also invited congregants to join virtual Mass. Every Sunday at 10 a.m., the group will meet via Zoom for worship.

“Hopefully, this will be a really simple way for us to gather in a space for worship without transmitting viruses or risking any difficulty,” Fischer said in a statement. “I’m hopeful that I will be able to join everyone for regular in-person worship soon, but we will be following the advice and guidance of the session and medical and governmental officials. Our main concern is to keep everyone as safe and healthy as we can while still providing for the needs of the church.”

He encouraged congregants to visit the parish’s Facebook page and to check email regularly.

The church building may be temporarily closed, he said, “however, the church is and has always been more than a building. The church is still the church, even though we cannot meet face to face at this time.”