Many people turn to their faith during uncertain times. And two northern Illinois faith communities are making sure their members are supported.
George Davis is a member of the Spiritual Assembly Baha’is of Rockford.
Davis said the Baha’i National Spiritual Assembly offered guidance for both COVID-19 precautions and handling the death of George Floyd.
He said the organization has focused on making sure the community is safe from the coronavirus by following regulations put in place by state and health officials.
Davis also said they are making sure their members have a positive worship experience.
“We've continued to have daily devotionals that are offered on Zoom for anyone who wants to participate,” he said. "And Baha’is and friends all over the world literally, in almost every continent, and many countries have been a part of those daily prayer, gatherings for healing and for peace.”
He said this new way of coming together is beneficial.
“I would say that in many ways our interactions and our connections have increased and deepened,” he said. “Both among the members of our own community but also with many of our friends and family members.”
Scott Hodge is the lead pastor of the Orchard Community in Aurora. He said he thinks his congregation is adapting well to worshiping during COVID-19.
Hodge said Zoom is used for weekly fellowship. But, they use the Church Online Platform for its services.
“The first week we did it, someone sent me a text -- someone from our church -- and they were telling me how much they loved having the ability to fast forward through the church service,” he said. “And so, I figured out really quickly how to shut that off so they can't do it.”
Hodge said the technology is great and the flow of the service is the same.
“But it feels very similar to what our gathering in person would be,” he explained. "You know, we start off with a welcome and how to log in and we do a call to worship, we do some music, we do some prayers.”
Davis said Baha’i members are receiving the same musical experience they did before COVID-19.
“Yeah, you know, the Baha’i faith is very much focused on the spiritual richness of all of the arts and expressions,” he shared.
Davis explained how technology allows the continuation of the “Nineteen Day Feast." This gathering happens every 19 days.
He shared the importance of this meeting.
“For prayer and for reflection, and really also for conversation about the concerns that are on the minds and hearts of the Baha’i community,” he said.
Outside of COVID-19, race relations are high on that list of concerns.
He said the death of George Floyd has put an urgency on the need for these conversations.
“You know, the Baha’i teachings are very clear that both black and white Americans in this country have a direct responsibility for addressing the conflicts that come up with regard to race, but our responsibilities are different,” he said.
Davis is African American. He said his community should see themselves as contributors and not victims.
“You know, our responsibilities oftentimes have to do with both looking at our own healing and as well as looking at ways in which we can avoid -- you might say -- becoming bogged down in our own sense of discouragement,” he said.
He said the white community has another obligation.
“The writings of the faith state that their main job is to really work to become conscious of their own, their often-unconscious sense of superiority,” he said.
Hodge is white. He is also having conversations with his parishioners about racism.
Hodge said it’s been the topic of his last two sermons. He talks about the first being Pentecost Sunday.
“And you know, the whole emphasis is on the Holy Spirit. And there's this Hebrew, the Hebrew word, and the Greek word for spirit is the word breath, or to breathe,” he said. "And I shared that. And I talked about this word and to breathe and breath. And I paused and I said, like, ‘I can't breathe.’”
He explains that our breath is a gift from God.
“And to take that breath from another life is to take a piece of God out of this world,” he said.
Hodge said he understands things are complicated.
“But God forbid that that paralyzes us and keeps us from standing up for and standing alongside our black brothers and sisters right now,” he said.
Hodge shared that in times like this, white pastors usually reach out to their black peers for a conversation. He said he feels that’s the pattern and he doesn’t want to rush into things this time.
“So, one of the things I'm trying to gauge is like how do we sit in this moment and allow ourselves to feel it and to lament it and to not move too quickly past it?” he asked. “Because that’s what always happens.”
Hodge has a coffee shop and event venue called Society 57. This is the same place church services are held.
It’s located in downtown Aurora, where a recent protest against police brutality turned into looting.
He said he felt so many emotions. He’s not only a pastor but a shop owner who had to protect his business.
“I felt it all. I felt sadness, I felt anger, I felt joy watching people come together," he said. "I feel confused in the midst of all of this. I felt depleted."
Both Davis and Hodge said they are hopeful about the conditions of this country. They also said, although they are able to communicate with their members digitally, nothing will ever take the place of face-to-face human connection.
- Yvonne Boose is a 2020 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project which is a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms.