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Year of the Epidemic of Leaders of the Faith. Sorrow, calmness, flexibility

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During the year of the epidemic, caring leaders and caring counselors throughout the United States served the sick, fed the hungry, and comforted the dead. Some did so while recovering from COVID 19 or mourning the loss of family or friends.

Times from time to time they were discouraged. So many people got sick, so many people died, the leaders of this faith could not hug the sick, the mourners, or hold their hands.

For security reasons, their congregations have been away from personalized services for months, but their need to serve has only intensified.

In the face of sorrow and anxiety, the leaders of this faith showed resilience and found reasons for hope when they rethought their mission. Here are some of their reflections on an experienced year.



During the first weeks of the epidemic, St. Joseph Dutan lost his father to the coronavirus. A few days ago, Dutan’s tutor and friend, 49-year-old Jorge Ortiz-Garay, became the first Roman Catholic priest in the United States to die of COVID-19.

Dutan felt sorrow, fear, even doubt. He was mourning his father while he was comforting St. The Brigid Community, a Catholic church in Brooklyn and Queens, has one of the highest rates of infection in New York. His grief, he said, made him better able to help others bear the pain.

“When they come to the funeral … I feel I can connect with them, I can cry with them,” Dutan said. “I comfort them and tell them, ‘Everything will be fine.’ We are not alone. we are in this together. ”

In the San Fernando Valley area of ​​Los Angeles, Rabbi Noah Farkas said the victims of the epidemic were particularly severe among older adults at his Beth Shalom Congregation meeting.

He estimated that 25 to 50 of its 5,000 members had lost their lives to COVID-19, and that even more people had died, mostly in the elderly, “because COVID created a life situation that was impossible »:

He said many people were isolated in their rooms, in assisted care facilities. “There was suicide, drug addiction, exhaustion. All the things you can think of when your mental health is deteriorating. ”

Farkas held 20 funerals in January alone, as California was exposed to a wave of infections, always wearing a mask and sometimes a face shield. He was saddened by the inability to hug the mourners.

One of the most affected churches was St. Peter and Lutheran Church in New York. Its leaders say more than 60 of the 800 members of the congregation have died from COVID-19. Almost all of them were part of a community of about 400 people who attended the Spanish service.

Bishop Paul Eugenstein, who oversees other congregations in New York on the grounds of St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, said the emotional damage to pastors was great.

“They could not go anywhere, they could not take a vacation,” he said. “It was a great tension. Trying to understand how to connect people, how to worship, visit the hospital. ”

Imuk Ahmed Ali of the IQRA Masjid Community & Tradition Mosque in Brooklyn went to work in late March after the funeral home called for help and asked hospitals to restore the bodies of those who died of COVID-19. Funeral rites. Ali was afraid of the rapidly spreading virus, like everyone else, but he felt the call to serve God և his religious duty.

He began to make voluntary shifts, moving the bodies for up to 20 hours, placing them in mourning rooms, washing them, wrapping them in white cloth, and transporting them to cemeteries for burial.

He usually prays or prays several times a year. At the height of the New York crisis, he performed as many as 20 a day, and about three months later he oversaw or attended a total of about 300 funerals.

“It was a really difficult time, it was a big loss for every community,” Ali said. “I pray we do not have to see such an epidemic again.”

Friendswood United Methodist Church in suburban Houston has spared no casualties.

One of the active members of the 900-member congregation who actually died of COVID-19 was the “pillar of the church” who served on many of its councils, committees, and won over friends for his good humor and generosity, said Pastor My Bass. ,

“He was 74 years old but had no health condition we knew of,” Bass said. “When he got sick, it really hit home for us in the congregation.”



Like thousands of houses of worship throughout the country, Beth Shalom Valley quickly moved into online services.

Farkas և and his team also embarked on what they called the “War of Isolation,” including a new system of telephone friends to starve isolated people from human contact. Volunteers selected members of the congregation whom they called at least once a week, “a company of 20-year-old octogenarians.”

Without personal worship, Farkas encouraged community activities by following health guidelines. On the occasion of the last Purim holiday, the congregation held a carnival in the parking lot, which was attended by about 160 families.

“We learned a group,” said Farkas, “but if I had to choose one thing, it was that we did not give up.”

Friendswood Methodist spent more than $ 20,000 on video devices last year to provide online worship. Personal services have now resumed – a quarter of pre-epidemic attendance. Bass said that there is enough space in the 1100-seat sanctuary for a socially appropriate distance. He encourages fans to sing quiet hymns for themselves through their masks.

For Esther Roman, a pastor at Mount Sinai Morningside Hospital in New York, the epidemic involves serving one sad family for another.

He remembered sitting 6 feet away from a wrecked woman, with tears streaming down his masked face as he asked Roman a torturous question. The high priest could not comfort the woman, as he would do the pre-epidemic behavior. Holding and shaking his hand.

“It was one of those moments when I was dissatisfied with the opportunities I was able to offer support in the past,” Roman said. “I had to try to make my words embrace.”

Others had to learn to transmit love or support through digital screens, face shields, and masks.

“We all faced challenges,” Roman said. “We were drawn into this war.”



Even in January, when the epidemic in New York City calmed down, St. Peters received a new injury. Serious flood damage from broken city water main.

The parish of Midhown Manhattan is known for its Jazz Vespers program, վնաս heavily damaged items included expensive musical instruments և archives of several great jazz. This further complicated the plans for the resumption of individual worship, for which there is no date yet.

At the same time, Christopher Vergara, President of the congregation, said that the community was getting closer by increasing its access to online services.

“We created a community network so people could interact with others to see how they were doing,” Vergara said. “We have created very small online groups: weaving, history, art.”

“The flood was a bad thing, but we really clung to each other,” he added. “We have gone from survival to prosperity.”

Friendswood Methodist was also badly damaged by the floods, in which many pipes froze and then exploded amid a recent severe storm in Texas.

Bass was surprised when more than 50 members of the congregation responded to his request for an ambulance, pushing brooms, scrubbers, and unlit church, trying to clear the water.

“We say that the church is not the building, but the people. And that’s right, “said Bass. “It really reminded people of the potential of the community.”

Christopher John Onson, assistant pastor of the Good Hope Baptist Missionary Church, said his Houston congregation was already suffering from lost social interaction, lost his job and food insecurity when a new blow struck in May following the death of his childhood friend George Cave Floyd. The hands of a white policeman in Minneapolis.

John Onson remembered Floyd as a respected member of the community helping out a church party with free AIDS tests when Houston hosted the 2017 Super Cup.

John Onson noted that Floyd’s death, which sparked nationwide protests and sparked racial injustice, had a particularly significant impact, as it took place against the backdrop of an epidemic that was causing disproportionate casualties to African Americans.

“People had to take a break. It was at that point that we realized that the world had changed,” said John Onson.

John Onson said his church responded to the epidemic by working with local authorities to provide community protection equipment և COVID-19 testing. They used radio broadcasts to discuss health inconsistencies, vaccinations, and the recent abolition of the state mask mandate.

The epidemic, says John Onson, “has called us to rethink and rethink what our philosophy will really serve in the AYA era.”


Religious coverage of the Associated Press is supported by Lilly Endowment through a US talk show. AP is solely responsible for this content.


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