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Faithful Turned to Technology to Connect During Pandemic
By Jack Guerino, iBerkshires Staff
03:48AM / Tuesday, March 24, 2020
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St. Elizabeth of Hungary, like many other houses of worship has turned to online resources to connect with parishioners during the coronavirus pandemic.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Diane Burdick is strong in her faith and rarely misses Mass at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church.
 
But last week's emergency closures of gathering places — including houses of worship — to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus has left many of the faithful cut off from a source of comfort in difficult times. 
 
Technology is now allowing parishioners to participate — although at a remove. Burdick and her family were able to watch the Mass at St. Elizabeth's via Facebook on Sunday morning. 
 
"My family loved it! We attend Mass regularly and are pretty involved in our Catholic community so having our faith 'cut off' was hard to explain to our 4-year-old son," Burdick said in an email exchange. "So for him to see Deacon Bruce [Ziter] and Father Dariusz [Wudarski] say Mass in our parish from our living room was 'super cool' to him."
 
Although they could not receive the Eucharist or celebrate with fellow parishioners, everything else was spot on, she said, including exceptional video quality.
 
"The liturgy is always the same order/rituals every week so that was comforting having that sense of familiarity," Burdick said. "In addition, having our own clergy whom we see week after week celebrate the Mass made it all the more comforting."
 
She said there was an effort to get the word out that Mass would be live-streamed so although the congregation was separated Burdick knew everyone was watching together. 
 
Bishop Mitchell Rozanski of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield had ordered all activities canceled on March 13 and urged the Catholic community to tune into televised or live-streamed Masses on Facebook.
 
Burdick said she was amazed by the "collective effort and talent" of the church who made the new practice look easy and effortless.
 
St. Elizabeth of Hungary has more opportunities planned that will allow its congregation to participate in their practice safely. This includes virtual Stations of the Cross, daily Mass, and continued weekly Mass. She said there are also plans for Palm Sunday and organizing a drive-up Adoration, plus a new website in the works. 
 
The Rev. Steven Montesanti at the Parish of St John Paul II in Adams said he's been guiding people to the website of St. Agnes' Church in Dalton.  
 
"We are encouraging everyone to plug into [the Rev. Christopher] Malatesta's wonderful system for broadcasting Mass," Montesanti wrote in a message. "He celebrates a beautiful liturgy."
 
Burdick said she will continue to participate in virtual Mass and other services and added that now more than ever it is important to hold onto faith.
 
"When times are in despair and turmoil such as now, that's when it's especially important to practice one's faith. Our current situation is so new and scary for a lot of people because of the unknown that's constantly changing rapidly," Brudick said. "Being faith-filled nourishes the spirit and worshiping together (even if from afar) is also good for our hearts." 
 
It's not just Catholic churches turning to the internet to connect with congregants. 
 
Lora Peck, office manager of First Baptist Church, said the Monument Square church is streaming Sunday worship on Facebook Live at 10:30 a.m. 
 
"In the midst of uncertainty and anxiety, God is the same now and always," she said. "We want to be sure that the church remains a beacon of light amidst all the fear." 
 
The Rev. David Anderson has also added two-midweek streams, titled "Evenings of Encouragement" on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6:30 p.m. DVDs are being offered to those who don't have the online technology.
 
Peck said the response to new "normal" has been positive. 
 
"We may be feeling physically alone, but in reality we are all in this together. We like to remind our congregation that the church is not the building, but the people," she said. "That being said, with worship and all other events being held remotely, the church has truly 'left the building' — we are now out in the community in a way we have never been before."
 
Congregation Beth Israel is also using streaming services and social media to connect the congregation at a time when many are isolated. 
 
"Human beings need each other," said Rabbi Rachel Barenblat in an email exchange. "This profound truth is evident in the beginning of the creation story in Genesis: God concludes that it is not good for the first human being to be alone." 
 
That's even more a reason, she said, not to isolate emotionally and spiritually. 
 
Congregation Beth Israel has set up a "Zoom room" for using the teleconferencing app and has created a list of scheduled offerings. Shabbat services are streamed on Saturdays mornings and the temple also hosts online classes, weekly meditation, and even a drop-in hour during which people can join Barenblat for a cup of tea.
 
She said they have decided to use Zoom instead of Facebook Live because of its interactivity and want to narrowcast rather than broadcast. This way everyone in the "room" can see each other on screen.
 
"This is important because I think members of our community need to see each other as much as they need to see me," Barenblat said, adding that the board is also reaching out by phone to check on members. "We need to feel our connections with each other during this time of isolation and fear."
 
It's a good time to strengthen spiritual practices or start them in whatever form, she said.
 
"That might mean 'keeping Shabbat,' it might mean prayer, it might mean meditation or yoga or art or any number of other things," she said. "These are difficult times, and we need all the tools at our disposal in order to remain open-hearted and compassionate and humane. Spiritual practice is designed for precisely those purposes." 
 
She said in Judaism the Sabbath is often understood as a day apart from workday consciousness. She urged everyone for at least one day to "ignore the trauma of reading the newspaper."
 
"Maybe we focus on our loved ones, on a cherished book, on something that restores the soul. Maybe we pray, alone or in [online] community," Barenblat said. "Maybe we take a walk in nature, or take a nap. All of these can be restorative in different ways, and right now I think we need that restoration more than ever.
 
"Because when the Sabbath ends and we enter the new week, the new week will ask a lot of us, and we will need to be as grounded and whole as we can manage."
 
Officials are targeting the second week in April has as a probable date for lifting all or part of the gathering ban. But no one can guarantee that will happen and some churches are making plans for remote celebrations around Easter week.
 
"We are all adjusting to the locked doors at places of worship," writes Malatesta in a Facebook note to his parish. "Perhaps believers are being given an opportunity to transcend our external locations and enter by spirit and prayer the domain of God directly in our homes and hearts in new ways."

iBerkshires correspondent Jeffrey Snoonian contributed to this report.

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