In different religions, the pandemic changes worship, rites News
In the village of Northchurch, Hertfordshire, Anglicans typically worship at the more than 1,000-year-old St. Mary’s Church. It ended on March 24, when the Anglican Church closed all its buildings, and the Rev. Canon Jonathan Gordon began recording and broadcasting weekly services via smartphone with the help of his wife Rachel Gordon.
“It was an immediate and huge problem,” said Rev. Gordon. “It meant we had to completely rethink how we did everything.”
In Nisden, a suburb northwest of London, a magnificent Hindu temple of carved stone, built according to ancient Vedic architectural texts, usually receives thousands of visitors a day. Now BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir gets only a trickle of devotees who are the first to sign up for an online reception to restrain the crowd, and they are ordered to wear face masks.
There are reminders of unusual times everywhere: instead of donation boxes, smart screens flashing images of Hindu deities allow contactless donations, and after each prayer session, workers in protective suits rush to spray and disinfect any surface that may be.
On the last day at a suburban home in Hemel-Hampstead, three members of the Patel family, dressed in their best saris, watched intently in their living room as Hindu swamis and gurus spoke to them through a video screen.
“This is what we would wear to the temple,” said Hemali Patel, “so it would be right to dress for this event.”
The adoption of services virtually was particularly difficult for the Orthodox Jewish community, whose members are prohibited from using electronics on the Sabbath, a day of rest. Rabbi Mordechai Cal broadcasts video services from his home on Fridays just before sunset as the Sabbath approaches.
“L’chaim,” he said recently in Hebrew, associated with the Congregation through Zoom. His children were confronted with a picture in his pajamas to look curiously at his laptop before Shira Kelk, his wife, picked them up for a bedtime story.
The Amvrati Buddhist monastery, located in Chiltern Hills northwest of London, decided to simply close its doors and retreat inside to protect the common way of life of its monks in yellow robes.
The monastery, whose name translates from the sacred Buddhist language of the field as “Immortal Kingdom,” accepts supplies at the back gate, and it took several rounds of negotiations before an AP journalist was allowed to enter in a mask and gloves and observe strict social distancing.
Spokesman Ajan Damananda said the restoration of the temple if the United Kingdom comes out of the coronavirus would be done with extreme caution to avoid the spread of COVID-19, and so far only for some features such as funeral ceremonies.
In the central mosque of Cambridge in the city of the same name, Imam Ali Tos found solace in the slow recovery and important role of the mosque in the lives of the faithful. Now during the communal prayers the mats are at a distance of one and a half meters from each other, and the faithful are asked to bring their own. Names and numbers of people are carefully collected for possible purposes of tracking contacts.
“The mosque is not only a place of worship for Muslims,” said the imam, “it is the center of our lives.”
Rabbi David Mason, who heads an Orthodox synagogue in North London, recalled driving to a Jewish cemetery to lead a funeral, and was “horrified” at the rows of new graves, often several people were buried the same day.
“I was really impressed, you know, with the number of people killed,” Mason said. “And it’s one of many cemeteries.”
But religions have survived countless times before, and indeed, many of the principles of faith revered today were born of hardship and suffering. And today’s pandemic did not go without easy moments.
Mason said he was delighted to learn that technology-savvy volunteers spend hours talking on the phone, patiently helping senior members of the community go online for services.
“My highlight during the blockade was when a 90-year-old woman came to talk on Sunday night and explained how delighted she was,” the rabbi said. “This is how the communal cooperation works. I watched it work and it was just great. ”
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