Faith community finds ways to worship through Covid – The Reporter

Let me begin by stating the obvious: this pesky pandemic is having an impact on our community, testing our resilience and sense of togetherness. While disasters normally have a dopamine inducing side-effect of bringing the community together — spreading love, compassion and a sense of “we are in this together,” — a lingering pandemic can have the exact opposite effect. No doubt, Covid has divided families along vaccination or political lines of disagreement. It has made us skittish and contact-avoidant. It has impacted schools, businesses, restaurants and places of worship in major ways. And despite access to vaccines, we are still dealing with the pandemic’s own resiliency. Along the way, some of the shadow sides of humanity have also been unmasked.

I am a member of the Wissahickon Faith Community, an inter-faith group where clergy leaders of various religious traditions communicate with one another frequently. As leaders of local congregations, we are all looking for the positive and for lessons to be learned. Our various faith traditions sustain us through these difficult times. But as leaders of faith communities, we have also had our own sets of challenges.

Father Emmanuel Williamson arrived at Trinity Episcopal Church in Ambler/Ft. Washington at the beginning of 2020. Less than three months into his call, Covid struck and changed parish life as we all knew it. In the following summer a monster storm caused catastrophic water damage in this beautiful old church edifice on Bethlehem Pike — a full year before “Ida” devastated the area again. Today, the congregation is in the midst of a difficult rebuilding situation while Father Emmanuel is trying to lead his flock, still just getting to know some of them.

Shamsul Huda is a member of the North Penn Mosque in Lansdale. This congregation has a good number of immigrant members, many of whom lost jobs at the beginning of the pandemic. Prayer times in the Mosque were affected as well. They are traditionally held with men standing elbow to elbow, literally forming a human prayer chain. With Covid, that was no longer advisable and “Shams,” as we call him, said that the Imam and the leasdership decided to invoke the six-feet social distancing rule, going against tradition and in favor of safety.

A number of congregations experienced the retirement of a clergy leader.  While those transitions are difficult at any time, the invisibility of parts of a shepherd’s flock during Covid makes this even more difficult. In August of this year, Pastor Bill Middleton retired from Boehm’s United Church of Christ in Blue Bell after nine years at the helm of the congregation. This small but strong congregation with a long and storied history in our area, is fortunate to have a member like Edi Calvert. Edi has seminary training in her background and is providing lay leadership while the congregation decides what form of pastoral leadership will fit best as Boehm’s UCC moves forward.

In my own parish at St. Peter’s Lutheran in North Wales, we have had Zoom services, live-streamed services and now also in-person worship again. As in many other Houses of Worship, our members are all over the map in their personal approach to Covid: from people who aren’t ready to meet any time soon with others in the sanctuary to those who are happily back every Sunday to those who don’t like to abide by the mandatory mask rule for our indoor services and stay away for that reason. We have people who are very anxious and those who are pretty relaxed about the threat of the virus. Over the last two years we had an unprecedented number of outdoor services, including some wonderful big services in the local Weingartner Park and baptisms in our Baptismal Garden.  I would say that these outdoor celebrations have gone a long way toward sustaining our sense of community.

One of our pastors described the shadows of this pandemic as experienced by many if not all clergy leaders at this time. He writes: “Challenges are getting people back… those who were not all that involved have drifted further, exacerbated by being tired of Zoom.  And then, with the rise in cases, do we resume?  Do we go back to Zoom only?  What is safe?  So crisis fatigue, Zoom fatigue, and uncertainty about the future of the church…”

Our local congregations do a lot for the community, whether it’s food drives, service activities, housing for homeless families, prayer, counseling, hosting community support groups, charitable giving, to name a few. Maybe it is time to support our Houses of Worship. If you belong to a Community of Faith, please stand by their side during this difficult time. We would all appreciate it.

Pastor Andreas Wagner is pastor of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in  North Wales and a member of the Wissahickon Faith Community.