Christian and Jewish congregations practice faith online


Rabbi Andrea London. London and other Evanston religious leaders have had to move operations online because of the novel coronavirus.

Emma Edmund, Print Managing Editor

Evanston’s Christian and Jewish religious organizations have had to find a place for faith amid social distancing guidelines as residents adjust to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s shelter-in-place order.

From livestream services to remote assistance for more vulnerable residents, religious organizations have had to rethink traditional services and programs.

At Ebenezer AME Church, leaders have slightly modified services to make them only around an hour long. Rev. Deborah Scott also holds services over a conference call. While other organizations have utilized video services, Scott said her congregation tends to be older, and prefers conference calls.

The church remains focused on staying in touch with its congregation, even as self-isolation orders continue.

“We hear words like ‘isolate yourself,’” Scott said. “Those can be kind of hard to hear, because it may magnify your own situation. Many seniors are already isolated, just because they live alone. We have just asked each of the other members to make sure you contact at least two or three members per week just to encourage each other.”

Ebenezer AME Church has used conference calls to host Bible studies as well, and the church regularly sends updates out via email. While the conferences have been pretty well-attended, Scott said members of the congregation are still getting used to donating online, as opposed to checks.

At the Beth Emet synagogue, in-person services have been moved to Zoom, YouTube and other digital platforms. The synagogue emails information regarding upcoming services and even offers virtual learning sessions online.

“Everything we do in-person has been shifted online, if possible,” Rabbi Andrea London told The Daily on March 18. “Our early childhood director is trying to figure out how we shift what we do for early childhood folks to the computer, whether it’s reading stories, having some music, having some content we can share.”

While religious organizations have some mobility to adapt their services to the needs of their members, they still have to follow orders of leaders within the religion. St. Athanasius Parish is part of the Archdiocese of Chicago, which authorizes only a certain number of priests to anoint the sick. The Archdiocese is not allowing any confessions, even if they are virtual or drive-thru.

Kelly Fierro, the parish operations director for St. Athanasius, said the parish is still providing other services to the community, such as weekly Mass streamed on Vimeo and volunteers calling vulnerable parishioners.

“They’ve been making hundreds of calls just to check in with those members, see how they’re doing, what kind of supplies they might need,” Fierro said. “Do they need someone to pick up groceries? Do they need somebody to pick up medication? Are they having any financial problems related to this crisis going on, and how can we help within the government guidelines?”

For Evanston’s religious communities, though, problems are far from over. With Passover and Easter approaching, religious leaders are navigating what can feasibly be done online, and what needs to be postponed or canceled.

Evanston’s leaders plan to continue virtually for as long as possible, even though they have traditionally relied on in-person services and programs to maintain operations.

“We’re not confined to brick and mortar,” Scott said.

Maia Spoto contributed reporting.

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