As Christians celebrate Easter, faithful find new connections while virus separates them from church – The Boston Globe


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“We will have our friends across the country participating," Stanfield said. “I call this our Fourth Church diaspora.”At a time when coronavirus has forced people apart, many Christian congregations are finding ways to draw closer for Easter, the feast day that marks the faith’s belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.Through online choirs, virtual candle-lighting, and even drive-through confessions for Roman Catholics, clerics and congregants are forging new paths of connection on a day that celebrates rebirth and hope.“We’ve had to completely flip the way that we conceive ministry,” said Rev. Matt Williams, the Roman Catholic pastor of St. John the Baptist and St. Joseph’s parishes in Quincy.For Easter, that will mean an 11 a.m. Mass broadcast over YouTube from a small basement chapel at St. John the Baptist. Since March 20, Williams said, the number of subscribers on the church’s YouTube account has jumped to more than 1,600 from 389.“The response has been unbelievable,” he said.At a time of grief and isolation, clergy find they suddenly have a national and sometimes global sweep that might not have been apparent before the pandemic.Allen, the rector at Trinity Church, said services are being watched as far away as Madagascar. Stanfield said a couple from London, one of whom has been hospitalized with coronavirus, are being reached. And Groover, the pastor at Charles Street A.M.E., said last Sunday’s services attracted 1,200 views on Facebook, more than twice the congregation’s 500 active members.“People seem to be more connected. They’re drawing closer to God,“ Groover said. “They’re finding that the church is an anchored expression of hope when the 24-hour cable news cycle is not giving them much hope. They’re looking for a contrast to this message of gloom.”Groover knows the tragedy of the virus firsthand. Three members of the congregation have died from the disease, all in their 80s, and all with underlying medical complications. Groover presided over funerals on Holy Thursday and Good Friday, he said, with the third to be held next week.“People are always looking for ministers to have the right, golden words to say that will somehow give them hope and make them feel better,” Groover said. "This coronavirus is one of those things that comes with a lot of ‘I don’t knows.' "“I will assure them that God weeps for them and that God hurts with them and that God will see them through and comfort them. This coronavirus will not have the last word."In South Boston, Stanfield is devising interactive ways to bring his diverse congregation together. Using Zoom, an approach that the longtime pastor calls “Brady Bunch viewing,” different members have led sections of the Lenten services.Last Sunday, the congregation merged the secular and the sacred by singing from the musical “Jesus Christ Superstar.” More than a dozen members were shown on Zoom at the same time, dancing in their homes and — sometimes out of sync — giving voice to the song “What’s the Buzz.”The opening lyric, “What’s the buzz, tell me what’s a-happening,“ seems appropriate to the times, Stanfield said.Still some church leaders are finding these virtual communities do not always include everyone in their congregations."There are some people who are really important to us who don’t have digital access, and that breaks my heart. We’re trying to stay in touch and call them,” Stanfield said.In Quincy, Williams is organizing a virtual platform for spiritual retreats, as well as helping distribute a video montage with snippets of different parishioners contributing verses of the “Easter Alleluia.”Williams has also used drive-through confessions to stay connected with the faithful. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, he and another priest each sit in their cars, cover an open window with a trash bag to provide anonymity,and listen to confessions from parishioners in adjacent vehicles.The services have even drawn Catholics from other parishes, he said. “Sometimes, though, we have to tell them to turn their cars off,” Williams said with a chuckle.Trinity Church also has improvised to build an active virtual presence.“Oddly, this is a season full of paradoxes. We were separated in order to stay whole,“ Allen said. “Another is that even though we’re more distant, there’s a greater intimacy because we’re being invited into people’s homes in a new and different way.”One example is the tradition of lighting the Easter candle. This year, because of the crisis, the candle is scheduled to be lit Saturday at the home of a 12-year-old boy who, because of social restrictions, cannot be baptized at Trinity as planned that night.The family will keep the candle lit for a week and then ceremonially “pass” it virtually to another family for a week. The flame will continue to go from family to family until the congregation can gather once more at Copley Square, Allen said.“God doesn’t live at the Trinity Church altar,“ Allen said. “God is with us in our homes, at our breakfast table, and at our Easter table.“At the Charles Street A.M.E. Church, Groover said he will continue to preach the presence of a benevolent and caring God. The crisis does not change that message, he said.“God is not angry at the world. He’s not angry at us. He’s not showing his wrath,” Groover said. “It’s not who God is.”Easter will be different this year, but its meaning is unchanged, the clerics said.“I’m seeing this coronavirus as an extended Lenten season," Groover said. “Our Resurrection Day will be when we’re able to gather again and worship together.”Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at [email protected]
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