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Religious leaders adapt to empty pews

Video Credit: Reuters - Politics
Published on May 12, 2020 - Duration: 04:19s

Religious leaders adapt to empty pews

Mosques, churches and synagogues across the U.S. are confronting a crisis that left many houses of worship empty.

This report produced by Zachary Goelman.

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Religious leaders adapt to empty pews

[The imam of a mosque in New Jersey tells Reuters,] "I think from a spiritual standpoint, it's very empowering and it actually, for us, it's a chance for us to recognize our real priorities in life and gain a sense of clarity on what really matters - family, community." From mosques to synagogues to churches, houses of worship across the U.S. are confronting a health crisis that has emptied pews and prayer rugs.

"I would say the most obvious change is that we're not seeing each other physically." [That's according to] Benny Rogosnitzky [who] is the cantor, or prayer leader, at the Park East Synagogue in Manhattan.

"We're not meeting.

And so a place that is a place of prayer and gathering has become somewhat desolate.

And what we've had to do is we've had to adapt and go to an online platform." Like workplaces and schools, Park East Synagogue wentl in a digital direction, with the help of YouTube and Zoom.

Jews marked the holiday of Passover in April.

A festival normally celebrated around the dinner table, the Greenberg family of Long Island had to make do.

[As 73-year-old Esther Greenberg told her family this year,] "Unfortunately, we all can't be together holding each other around, giving hugs and kisses, but we're doing it virtually because this is what our family does.

We do love even though we can't touch each other." Orthodox rabbis in Israel granted special permission to use Zoom for Passover, despite a long-standing prohibition on using electricity on the Sabbath and other festivals.

But even with this blessing, digital solutions don't work for everyone.

[Rogosnitzky explained,] "You know, we have a lot of an older congregation.

And so many people, before they even talk about connecting with God, they have to figure out how to connect with their service provider." [A reverend at an Episcopal church told Reuters,] "For the first time I heard a confession by Skype.

You know, something I never even thought was possible before.

But, you know, you have to do what you have to do." Father Patrick Malloy is a reverend at The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Devine in New York City.

The Episcopalian church in April converted a sanctuary into a makeshift overflow hospital.

The Cathedral's evening choir now performs on YouTube.

And Father Patrick said he's noticed something since the Episcopalian church moved services online.

Closing its doors to physical worshippers has opened it up to digital ones.

"Last night at evening prayer, there was someone from Finland, someone from Lapland who showed up.

And we now have, we know someone who's become so close to our community in California that she's become one of the people now who reads the scriptures at the Daily Office.

So, I think that as we move out of this and move back into sort of a new normal, I guess one of the questions I would have is should we necessarily abandon all of our online connections?

Maybe some of these things are really better done online than in person, or maybe we could do more of a hybrid.

So I think there is going to be a lot that we're going to learn from this if we just really pay attention to the lessons that are being offered to us." Across the Hudson River, Muslims who attend the Islamic Center of Passaic County found quarantine came at the same time as the holy month of Ramadan.

And while Father Malloy and Cantor Rogosnitksy logged on and broadcast, Imam Sheikh Osamah Salhia counselled congregants to try a different spiritual path.

"Well, we personally as a masjid do not encourage people to do prayer through livestream.

Rather, we're actually encouraging them to do it as a family at home.

Actually, we had a talk.

One of the talks was 'your family is your congregation'.

And we told people this is a golden opportunity for you.

Usually there's such a busy schedule during Ramadan that people hardly have a chance to connect as a family with each other.

So now your family is your congregation.

So that's what we encourage people to do."

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