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'Embody The Love Of Neighbor': Practicing Faith In A Pandemic

Peter Medlin
Koten Chapel on the campus of North Central College in Naperville

The sound of Christian hymns echoes through an empty sanctuary during a Facebook Live service at Immanuel Lutheran Church in DeKalb.

Like nonessential businesses, the churches’ doors have been locked to their congregations in the interest of public health.

You can imagine parishioners are singing along, sheltered-in-place at their homes. Marty Marks is the pastor at Immanuel. One of his members wanted to sing but didn’t have a hymnal.

“So I did kind of a drive-by ding-dong ditch thing where I went to the house, I rang the doorbell, you know, ‘I’m leaving the hymnal here!’” said Marks.

Every faith group is trying new ways to keep their communities connected, even if they can’t do it face-to-face. For many, Facebook has been the tool of choice to reach them.

Facebook Live sermon broadcasts and Zoom meeting prayers are the new norm.

They’re also keeping up with each other through phone calls, emails and WhatsApp.

For the Muslim Association of Greater Rockford, it’s been a big adjustment. Just consider their mosque’s normal Friday prayer gatherings.

“We usually have approximately 700 people -- now there is none,” said Imam Mohamed Ahmed Elgobashy of the Muslim Association of Greater Rockford.

The Association posted daily prayer from home instructions on its website.

“You can pray anywhere,” he said. “And if you have some emergency like this, you will get the same reward from God if you pray at home if you didn't come to the mosque.”

Denzil Luckritz is the pastor at Trinity Episcopal Church in Aurora. He’s been having morning and evening prayer groups on Zoom. He’s also doing Facebook streams for the first time.

“Everybody's been talking about a learning curve,” said Luckritz. “It has not been a learning curve at all. It has been like a rocket launch. It has been straight up.”

Many people’s daily schedules have all but exploded during the COVID-19 crisis. The Rev. Eric Doolittle says having a prayer schedule, like in Islam, can be beneficial to anyone in any faith tradition.

“So planning that time, 10 minutes, five minutes, 20 if you can do it, to be intentional about the different parts of your self-care is essential,” said Rev. Doolittle, the chaplain at North Central College’s Office of Faith and Action.

He says he’s eager to see how people of faith take the opportunity for action in their communities.

“How will people use the extra time? And as they feel that they are able to engage, to give back to embody the love of neighbor in a proactive way,” said Rev. Doolittle.

Members of the Muslim Association of Greater Rockford are helping deliver meals to students.

Other religious groups at Northern Illinois University are working with food insecurity missions for college students and trying to connect them to other campus resources.

Marty Marks is also the president of ACRO -- the association of campus religious organizations at NIU.

He says those student faith groups are also staying plugged in with each other.

“I don't see me doing a Snapchat or TikTok Bible study but, you never know, you get creative in times of need,” he said.

Rev. Doolittle at North Central College is hoping church leaders learn to rely on the young adults they have.

“They’re already experts, so lean into them,” he said.

One of the religious organizations at North Central, the Christian fellowship FOCUS, is breaking services into chunks through the week and curating Spotify playlists for worship.

Despite the innovation, many churches are also feeling a financial burden.

“It’s all unknown,” said Marty Marks of Immanuel Lutheran. “We’ve got no idea what our offerings over the next few weeks of them look like, we're in the process of budgeting for our next fiscal year. So we have no clue what our income is going to look like.”

Some churches, like Immanuel, also run schools that have teachers and staff who need to be paid.

Most churches set up online giving options in the meantime.

For now, Denzil Luckritz at Trinity Episcopal says, he’s seeing his community step up spiritually for each other.

“All of that has been challenging at the same time there's been a silver lining because we're coming together in ways that are simply remarkable,” said Luckritz.

And with coronavirus stress and anxiety taking a toll on many, faith groups pray they can continue to nurture spiritual care for themselves, and others. in a uniquely uncertain time.