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Religious participation skyrockets as institutions go online during the coronavirus

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Religious institutions in Glen Cove and Oyster Bay have been weathering the Covid-19 pandemic successfully, finding positive ways to reach the faithful. Virtual methods adopted by these institutions have allowed for an increase in community participation.

Congregation Tifereth Israel, in Glen Cove, has been able to assimilate to the online world and create an interactive experience to bring in members. “We have quadrupled our attendance on Friday night since we began streaming on Zoom and Facebook,” Rabbi Irwin Huberman said. “People who are at home want to convene with their friends and neighbors. Part of it is to pray and part of it is to socialize with each other in a way that has not always been possible in this time of social distancing.”

It is making religion a lot more accessible to a lot more of people, he added.

During Shabbat, a day of rest in the Jewish faith starting from Friday at sundown to Saturday nightfall, CTI provides a virtual service for its members on Saturday mornings, even though technology is generally not used during this time. “We have decided that it is okay to bend restrictions on technology,” Huberman said, “if it means that it brings people a sense of community during this difficult time.”

The results have been positive. This typical in-person service has garnered double the attendance.

First Baptist Church of Glen Cove has witnessed a similar result by going online. “The virtual community has been very beneficial and has allowed for us to involve more people who ordinarily would not be in attendance,” said Rev. Roger C. Williams, pastor of First Baptist Church. “The virtual means that we are using now, we are going to keep them, even when we go back into the building. I don’t see us moving away from those resources.”

Since starting streaming in August of 2019, leaders of Glen Cove Christian Church said they have found going online to be an advantageous tool for the church. “We are able to extend our reach,” explained Tommy Lanham, pastor at Glen Cove Christian Church. “We have people all over the nation. I think we even had a few international participates in our services.”

The church looks to continue developing their online presence he said, “because we have developed more participants that are not local or maybe that are not able to get to our services.”

North Shore Community Church in Oyster Bay has never closed. “That is to say we have never stopped our ministry,” said its pastor, the Rev. Dr. John Yenchko. “We have been meeting online in all forms. Our groups have been loyal and engaged. It has gone very well.”

As they prepare themselves for reopening, they continue to help the community. “We continue to have an important outreach to the community through our food pantry,” Yenchko said. “That ministry has serviced between 40 and 60 families a week on Saturday mornings between 9 and 10 a.m. at the church building.”

The First Presbyterian Church of Oyster Bay has also attempted to reach out to community members. On May 31, the church held a drive-by and curbside coffee hour for members.

Along with these social distance activities, the church has adopted online Zoom meetings.

“A nice thing about it is, we have also had people who have moved away that have logged in or children that have moved away that have logged in,” said Jeffrey F. Prey, pastor of First Presbyterian Church. “It allowed us to reconnect with folks who were once here.”

Hybrid services may be in the church’s future as these institutions continue to see a positive turnout. “People would rather be together in church,” Prey said, “but this overall experience has not been without its positives.”

Many religious leaders, like Huberman, have found that their community are satisfied with their efforts. “There is no rush to return to the brick and mortar,” he said.