Grieving in the time of Covid-19

Public health. Thanks to technology, many religious leaders are able to virtually meet with congregants and even offer prayers and services online or through zoom video, Google groups or Facebook.

| 14 Apr 2020 | 07:45

One of the horrors of quarantine in the time of Covid-19 is the loss of public rites for the dead and all that implies: The comfort of friends and family at funeral and graveside services and the spiritual comfort of the presence of one’s pastor or rabbi.

The Chronicle reached out to local religious leaders to ask how they are dealing with grief in their congregation and how they answer when people ask how God could let this disease happen to the world.

Thanks to technology, many religious leaders are able to virtually meet with congregants and even offer prayers and services online or through zoom video, google groups or Facebook. And many keep in touch through emails and phone calls, especially for those without internet.

'Robbed of the full experience of being comforted by friends and family'

“We are trying to be there for each other as much as possible," Rabbi Pesach Burston of Chabad of Orange County said. "Those who are grieving are not only grieving a loved one, but also robbed of the full experience of being comforted by friends and family. Families are sitting Shiva, but people are comforting them virtually.”

Chabad has been trying to provide the congregation with resources, including preparing and distributing matzohs, and guidance on how to conduct their own Passover Seder at home.

“I believe people have risen to the challenge and occasion and have found ways to comfort each other; ways to be together as human beings even if it’s not a hug. Today with modern technology, even though we’re alone, we’re alone together, and share each other’s isolation.”

“I cannot answer God’s ways. I can’t explain; only God knows. I am against those who say we are being punished. No one has the right to say they know the reason.”

The power of prayer

Father John Bonnici of St. Columba’s Church in Chester said: “One of the most important things is the ability to come together and comfort each other in a time of sorrow.

“However, through the power of prayer we are able to come together in a spiritual way, asking God to grant the comfort and consolation we all need and seek," Bonnici added. "It’s very difficult – we stay in contact through other means: phone calls, Facebook posts and other social media outlets. Like everybody else, we’re doing the best during these challenging times. I offer mass daily privately for the intentions of the parishioners of St. Columba.”

'We’ll have a service when we can all gather again'

The Rev. Victoria Duncan of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Chester experienced two deaths in the congregation, but neither was related directly to Covid-19. Both were ill older congregants who wished to be cremated.

“I have their cremains at the church and we’ll have a service when we can all gather again,” Duncan said.

The reverend has gone into the church, to her prayer station and put congregants on speaker phone, so they could pray together and talk about their loved one.

Other colleagues who had to bury parishioners have held graveside services with family members in their cars, Duncan said.

“It’s a way of helping people grieve and be pastorally present for them and yet keeping them and ourselves safe. It’s very bizarre as a priest to receive a (sick) call and not be able to go. The first thing I do is pick up my things and go.”

“I’ve been having lots of worship services online," Duncan added. "The numbers are a happy surprise. And I’m delighted that people are taking advantage of online worship. I’ve gotten feedback from people that it’s so good to hear my voice and see the altar. We have different people doing readings. And for intercession prayers, I invite people to send me names of people they want me to pray for. We’re trying to figure out any way we can stay connected.

"I always look for the blessing that God’s going to bring out of things. I don’t believe God intends us to go through these things; this is not God’s will, but God will turn it to God’s good," the minister added. "This is a broken world and terrible, evil things happen and God is working to change that - to reconcile the world to God."

'He still grieved'

Pastor Erin Moore of the First Presbyterian Church in Chester said she, deacons, and church members have mostly been making phone calls. Check their Facebook page First Presbyterian Church of Chester for information.

“We’ve been helping people feel connected as much as we can through daily prayers and worship online. We had a death in the congregation and the family decided on their own to wait to be able to gather together.

“God doesn’t necessarily allow this or bad things to happen in our world or in our lives," Moore added. "On an often-enough basis, even scripture shows how bad things happen throughout history. In the Psalms there is a lot of lament, crying out to God, showing how even in difficult times in their lives people still have faith in God. In the gospel of John on raising Lazarus, Lazarus’ sisters were upset that Jesus wasn’t there when he died, but Jesus shared in their grief and pain even knowing that Lazarus would be raised. He still grieved.”

'Our strength is knowing God is with us'

“We haven’t had a death from Covid-19,” said the Rev. M. Carl Lunden of St. James Episcopal Church in Goshen. “It’s not grief: it’s mostly people dealing with fear and uncertainty. Our principal bishop suspended all services until May 17. We’re not physically able to meet, but we’re doing phone calls and emails. We put our services online on You Tube and communicate through Facebook, Constant Contact and Zoom 'coffee hours.' People in the parish are answering the phone, and we have an informal phone chain, especially to contact the few people who don’t have internet access.

“I remind people that this is serious but we’ll make it through it; follow the guidelines and hunker down and we’ll get through this," Lunden added. "The important thing is to stay connected. The reality is, things like this our going to happen, but our strength is knowing God is with us through it all."