While local religious leaders hold on to their faiths, they are still practicing an abundance of caution during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a March 16 email, the Diocese of Rockville Centre directed all parishes to suspend or postpone all Masses, meetings and nonessential activities until April 14. The suspension tentatively will end after Easter Sunday, which is April 12. The postponements also include confirmations and first communions, while funerals, weddings and baptisms will be permitted if necessary and must be limited to less than 50 people.
“We are encouraging everyone to pray from home and to use this opportunity to develop our personal connection with G-d.”
— Rabbi Motti Grossbaum
Worshippers will be able to pray at local Catholic churches at the discretion of the pastor. However, the number of people must be under 50, in accordance with the New York State mandate.
The diocese said in the email that the Catholic Faith Network will provide televised and online Masses, and alerted Catholics that local parishes may also offer live streaming.
Other faiths are following suit.
Village Chabad Center for Jewish Life & Learning in East Setauket last week canceled several events and programs, according to Rabbi Motti Grossbaum. While last week’s service incorporated distancing of worshippers with 6 feet of space in between each of them, the Chabad has now canceled services until further notice, Grossbaum said, “as health and well-being supersede everything else in Judaism.”
Grossbaum said Chabad’s preschool and Hebrew School have also been closed in line with the state’s two-week mandatory shutdown, and the center is offering online classes and videos for children and adults during the temporary closure.
“We are encouraging everyone to pray from home and to use this opportunity to develop our personal connection with G-d,” Grossbaum said in an email.
“We felt like the best thing was not to have people gather, especially since technology allows us to do something where we can still reach people.”
— The Rev. Kate Jones Calone
The Rev. Kate Jones Calone, interim pastor of Setauket Presbyterian Church, said services have been moved online. On March 15 she said it was just her, a liturgist and a couple of musicians live streaming from the sanctuary using Facebook Live.
She said the board, which consists of congregants, took into account recommendations from the town and health organizations.
“We felt like the best thing was not to have people gather, especially since technology allows us to do something where we can still reach people,” the reverend said.
Setauket Presbyterian is also using Zoom, a video conferencing platform, for church meetings and confirmation classes.
“This is something that I think we are all dealing in a very unprecedented way,” she said.
Jones Calone added the staff is reaching out to parishioners to see if there is any help that they may need as far as running errands and are hoping to identify other ways they can help the community at large.
“From a theological standpoint, we know that connections are there whether we’re together or physically apart,” she said.
The reverend likened following the current health guidelines as similar to loving our neighbors, and she said she hopes everyone will reach out to their loved ones and neighbors as best as they can.
“Not only are we taking care of ourselves but also social distancing and things like that help us make sure we’re loving our neighbor,” she said.
“I will miss worshiping with you all on the Sundays ahead, but hopefully with these measures we will all remain safe and able to continue worshiping together well into the future.”
— Pastor Chuck Van Houten
Stony Brook Community Church Pastor Chuck Van Houten emailed members March 14 saying all churches in the New York Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church were requested to close for at least two weeks.
Van Houten said in the email that SBCC would make worship services available on its website. The services would most likely be recorded the night before and only a few people would be on hand. The church also plans to set up a Zoom account to continue meetings over video conferencing.
“I will miss worshiping with you all on the Sundays ahead, but hopefully with these measures we will all remain safe and able to continue worshiping together well into the future,” Van Houten said.
Rabbi Aaron Benson of North Shore Jewish Center said in an email the synagogue will be operating remotely like other institutions in the area.
“Perhaps one of the more interesting developments has to do with prayer life,” Benson said. “As communal prayers require being in person, Jews nevertheless can continue to pray individually. The opportunity then, to develop one’s personal spiritual practices and closeness to the Divine may be one of the only positive outcomes of our current state of affairs.”
When it comes to the current situation, Benson said it’s important to remember to have a thoughtful, grateful and kind attitude toward others.
“‘Receive every person with a smiling face.’ This piece of ancient rabbinic wisdom might seem out of place in a time of social distancing and quarantines, but I can’t imagine a more germane piece of advice,” Benson said. “If you’ve been in the stores lately, it can be a bit of a madhouse. If you’re stuck at home for days on end even with your family, if you’re dealing with poor internet connections for your remote meetings — patience and thoughtfulness can be at a premium. This is why in trying times like these remembering to have a thoughtful, grateful, kind and caring attitude toward others can make even more of a difference than an extra roll of toilet paper. So whether it’s in person or just in your voice over the phone, be sure to have a smile.”
All houses of worships have asked that congregants check their websites and social media for live streaming of services as well as updates of when they will open again.