Clergy Relay How Their Congregations Are Processing Life Under Coronavirus NPR's Mary Louise Kelly speaks to a rabbi, an imam and a Episcopal bishop about what they've been hearing from their congregants, and what words of comfort they are offering.
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Clergy Relay How Their Congregations Are Processing Life Under Coronavirus

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Clergy Relay How Their Congregations Are Processing Life Under Coronavirus

Clergy Relay How Their Congregations Are Processing Life Under Coronavirus

Clergy Relay How Their Congregations Are Processing Life Under Coronavirus

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NPR's Mary Louise Kelly speaks to a rabbi, an imam and a Episcopal bishop about what they've been hearing from their congregants, and what words of comfort they are offering.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

When word came on Monday of the latest White House guidance - no gatherings of more than 10 people - that ruled out, among other things, church, synagogue, Friday prayers at mosques. This week marks the first that many services of all faiths are being canceled or shifting online. And this at the very moment when so many of us say we are in need of comfort and ritual and spiritual guidance. Well, to speak to that, we've invited three guests to join us. In Detroit, Imam Dawud Walid, welcome.

DAWUD WALID: Thank you very much.

KELLY: In Denver, we're joined by Episcopal Bishop Dan Edwards. Welcome, Bishop Edwards.

And from Los Angeles, Rabbi Susan Goldberg. Hi there. Welcome.

SUSAN GOLDBERG: Thank you.

KELLY: So I have a first question to put to each of you in turn. Are your houses of worship holding services? And how are you communicating with your faith communities? Rabbi Goldberg, you first.

GOLDBERG: Yes. Hi. In California, we have been preparing maybe a little bit ahead, you know, of - we're now all being told to shelter in place. And we saw that coming last week, so we actually shifted to an online streaming for services. Many of the local synagogues did that as of last week.

KELLY: And do you actually go to the synagogue? And you speak as you normally would, and it's just being livestreamed?

GOLDBERG: Exactly.

KELLY: Got it. OK.

GOLDBERG: Yeah. It's a very limited amount. It's just - in some cases, it's just the clergy.

KELLY: Yeah.

GOLDBERG: I have heard a couple of synagogues where if it's a family that is celebrating a bar mitzvah, they just have immediate family.

KELLY: Imam Dawud, let me bring you in here. How are you handling this in Detroit?

WALID: Well, this is the second Friday, and our religious sermon days are on Fridays. So this is the second Friday where I've actually given the sermon via Facebook from my home, so we haven't had those prayers. And for the last two days, we have not had congregational prayers in our mosque here in southeastern Michigan. So beyond Friday being the day of our religious services, we have five daily prayers, and normally, our mosque are open for all five prayers. And now our mosque are currently not open.

KELLY: Bishop Edwards, how about you? How is the Episcopal Church handling this?

DAN EDWARDS: People from my congregation do our cathedral's livestream worship service on Sundays. And through the week, our lay caregivers and lay team ministers are telephoning the whole membership list and are now calling visitors to connect and offer pastoral - practical support. And we have online interactive fellowship and education gatherings. And we're sending out prayers and poems read by different members of the congregation each day, and I'm also electronically sending out sermons and a pastoral message each week.

KELLY: Yeah. Yeah. It's early days and unchartered waters, as I feel like I say every day these days. But is it working? What kind of messages are you hearing back from people in your communities in terms of how worried are they? Bishop Edwards.

EDWARDS: I'd say people are still in a bit of shock, and many are expressing worry for at-risk family members.

KELLY: And how about there in Detroit, Imam Dawud?

WALID: There's been a mixture. There are some people who are feeling very anxious and not just simply about getting sick but the loss of jobs. I know one person myself very well who just got a pink slip yesterday, so there's that level of anxiousness where people are feeling that their jobs may be in jeopardy. And there's other people in our community who are actually very hopeful and seeing this as an opportunity of actually having more time to meditate and pray and to escape a lot of the noise of their normal days, so there's mixed reactions in my community.

KELLY: I should let people listening know that you and I have met before, Bishop Edwards. I interviewed you in Las Vegas right after the mass shooting there in 2017. You had just delivered the sermon at Christ Church Episcopal. And afterward, we went and sat outside in the courtyard, and you told me how you were wrestling with figuring out how to help people find meaning in tragedy. How does this moment compare?

EDWARDS: Well, actually, this moment is, in a sense, larger because it has more direct impact on people's daily lives. So this is more immediate, more challenging.

KELLY: Rabbi Goldberg, what kind of challenges are you hearing from your community?

GOLDBERG: I think it's very similar to what the imam just expressed, that there is a variety of different experiences depending on what's happening in your life. We're hearing very different things from people - people who are alone having a different experience than those who are home with their kids and needing to homeschool, people who are just beginning chemotherapy or in the middle of that process are having a different experience, health care workers, people who have family members who are incarcerated. There's a lot of different experiences inside of it.

There is certainly a lot of fear and anxiety and also grief. There's a lot of loss for what people were hoping to do or had been planning or wanting to graduate high school. We're hearing a lot of stuff from our teens. And also, I agree with the imam in that there is this opportunity for a committed spiritual practice to really be helping to carry people through this.

KELLY: Yes.

GOLDBERG: All of us come from ancient traditions, and certainly all of our people have experienced past plagues, past moments of incredible tragedy. And we do have the resources...

KELLY: Yes.

GOLDBERG: ...Inside of ancient spiritual traditions to help people make meaning by doing things like being of service to others, by meditating, by praying, by studying. And I'm also really experiencing how much people need to be of service to others and trying to find creative ways as we support people to shelter in place, which we are all doing in California - we are staying in our homes...

KELLY: Indeed.

GOLDBERG: ...How to be of service to neighbors and community from that vantage point.

KELLY: Wise words - let me, in the minute we have left, let the other two come back in. I just wonder if you would send us out on a note of grace. In a sentence or two, what is the main point from your next sermon? Bishop Edwards.

EDWARDS: Well, that what matters isn't how long we live but how well we live. And a good life comes from an open heart. Fear closes the heart; love opens it. So when we feel afraid, we can do a spiritual aikido move to turn that into empathy and offer to pray for someone, help someone...

KELLY: Yes.

EDWARDS: ...To be of service in the world.

KELLY: And a parting thought from you, just a brief last word, Imam Dawud.

WALID: We believe in one God, and there's one creation. We're one human family. And we are all in this together, and we need to band together as human beings to get through this, irrespective of nationality...

KELLY: Thank you.

WALID: ...Race or religious orientation.

KELLY: Thank you. Thanks to all three of you - Imam Dawud Walid, Bishop Dan Edwards and Rabbi Susan Goldberg.

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