COVID-19: Montclair houses of worship adjust to social distancing, closure
By ERIN ROLL
The COVID-19 outbreak has disrupted all aspects of life in Montclair, including for members of the township’s many houses of worship.
All of Montclair’s houses of worship have closed their doors to regular worship services and in-person events to help stem the COVID-19 outbreak. The state has also ordered weddings, funerals and other services to be canceled.
From live-streamed services to phone trees to make sure members of the community are staying in touch with each other, the houses of worship have found ways to cope. But clergy in Montclair say that the new reality is a strange, often unsettling one.
Some Catholic churches remained open to allow for confession, prayer and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. But the Archdiocese of Newark issued new guidance saying that churches could no longer be open for any of those purposes, and has advised parishioners to be prepared for churches to still be closed during Holy Week.
Rabbi David Greenstein, of Temple Shomrei Emunah, said on March 19, “I think we’re pretty much in a similar boat as other houses of worship.” However, he said, “saving a single life is an absolute sacred obligation in our tradition. It’s the sacred call of the hour.”
For preschoolers, the synagogue has sent home packets of material to parents to use with their children. For Hebrew school students, there are online class sessions being offered.
There are restrictions on using certain technology on the Sabbath, Greenstein said, so the synagogue has been preparing a pre-Sabbath message that is taped and uploaded prior to the Sabbath.
Shomrei Emunah made the decision not to hold services during Passover, as well as its annual community Seder. The decision was made with input from a medical advisory group consisting of members of the congregation, which includes many physicians.
Religious education classes at some houses of worship have been moved to online Zoom meetings, where it is feasible.
For the past two weekends, the Archdiocese of Newark has held streaming Masses on its YouTube channel at noon on Sundays. The archdiocese has suspended all in-person weekend Masses until further notice, and is expected to release information and guidance on Holy Week Masses and events this week.
Other congregations, like St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair, are also offering streaming services.
On Saturday, Gov. Phil Murphy announced an executive order barring all gatherings, including weddings, services and funerals. Many houses of worship had chosen to close their doors prior to the executive order.
Mountainside Hospital has suspended in-person pastoral visits amid the outbreak, marketing director Chiara Marababol said March 24.
St. Mark’s United Methodist Church has suspended worship services until further notice.
The church has moved its Tuesday night Lenten study sessions to video conferences. In addition, the church has been running a weekly prayer call-in session for several years, and members of the congregation are encouraged to participate in that as well.
Rev. Leslie Houseworth-Fields also urged members of the church to look in on each other, particularly on vulnerable members of the congregation. Members of the congregation who are in need of supplies or other assistance are asked to call the church office.
Temple Ner Tamid has shifted its programs online. The temple is offering streaming services. For preschool and religious education, there are Zoom meetings online with families and teachers.
The temple has also called off its community Seder, as well as a fundraising gala scheduled for later in the spring.
Every member of the congregation is now receiving a phone call from another member of the congregation. Elderly members are receiving additional check-ins, Rabbi Marc Katz said.
One of the questions that everyone is asked is, “Do you need supplies?”
At Masjid-al-Wadud, the members of the congregation were initially asked to practice caution when interacting with each other. But it became clear, said Keith Dawud Amin, the imam of Masjid-al-Wadud, that it would be necessary to suspend in-person prayers.
The prayers cannot be conducted in a virtual format, unlike streaming services at other houses of worship. In lieu of that, the congregation will be presenting a series of talks online, based on sermons and other topics.
“The main one we have to recognize is that the Creator, God almighty, is responsible for everything. He regulates everything,” Amin said. There is an opportunity to become closer to God during this time, he said, and the talks will also address how members of the congregation can support each other and members of the larger community, Muslim and non-Muslim alike.
However, the change in routine is quite difficult for many members of the congregation, for whom daily prayers at the masjid are a crucial part of life, Amin said. Additionally, being constantly around family members, while it sounds good in theory, can take a toll as everyone deals with their own stresses and tensions amid the outbreak.
It is important to maintain one’s faith and spiritual practices, he said, and not become overwhelmed by stresses and worry.
“The bottom line is that we have to practice sabr, patience,” Amin said. “Then we’ll get through this.”
Rev. Marc Vicari, the pastor of St. Cassian Roman Catholic Church, said, “I feel very uncomfortable saying it, but the church is closed on Sunday. It doesn’t seem right, but it’s what we have to do.”
The clergy has been saying Mass to an empty church, and Vicari said the feeling has been strange and unsettling. “It’s sort of like going to a concert, and it’s just the singers there,” he said.
Vicari says the church has gotten many phone calls from people offering to help with outreach. So far, he said, the number of people offering to help has far outnumbered the people who are in need of help, but he expected that may change.
“A lot like 9/11, this terrible tragedy, they’re homebound, they’re frustrated, they want to do something to help,” Vicari said.
The more that everyone is under social distancing and the stay-at-home order, he said, “every couple of hours feels like a week.”
“For me, especially, Sunday is like the North Pole. You take Sunday away, Sunday feels no different than Tuesday.”