Many religious institutions have canceled regular services to stop the spread of COVID-19. This week, the Diocese of Duluth and the Diocese of Superior suspended public masses through April 20.

Confessions and office hours are planned to continue in Duluth, and clergy intend to continue visiting the sick. In Superior, churches were to remain partially open for private prayer, and clergy were asked to privately “continue to celebrate weekday and Sunday Masses,” according to press releases.

Other Twin Ports churches and synagogues weighed in.

Illustration by Gary Meader / gmeader@duluthnews.com
Illustration by Gary Meader / gmeader@duluthnews.com

Engage Church

Last Sunday, lead pastor Levi Bordes was surprised to see a consistent number of congregants at Engage Church.

People are searching for that normalcy and reassurance right now, he said. They have been streaming Sunday services on Facebook Live for weeks. Now, they’re switching to 100% online sermons starting this week due to COVID-19.

It was a tough decision to make, one he and other staff prayed about. “We don’t know if we’re doing the right thing now, but we want people to feel your peace or even a shred of normalcy,” he recalled.

Levi Bordes, lead pastor of Engage Church, pictured with his wife, Andie, is changing 100% to online sermons starting this week due to COVID-19. (Submitted photo)
Levi Bordes, lead pastor of Engage Church, pictured with his wife, Andie, is changing 100% to online sermons starting this week due to COVID-19. (Submitted photo)

Bordes said everyone is doing their best, and it’s difficult because “you can’t live in fear. It will disrupt your life.”

He said the best thing to do is take appropriate precautions, heed recommendations from experts and trust God.

“If I get sick, I get sick. I will trust him no matter what,” Bordes said.

They’d like to add a way for viewers to engage with their live streams, and Bordes noted a Text in Church app, which allows leaders to communicate with congregations, and people can stay connected to small groups.

And while it helps, it’s not a permanent substitution for the real thing. “You can Facebook, you can Skype, but I don’t think that fosters a great sense of community, which is a big part of why we go to church. We all need each other,” he said. “This is an opportunity to get back to people and relationships as they were intended to be, obviously not in person, but we can pick up the phone more. We can check in.

Temple Israel

Temple Israel has suspended services through April 2. Staff will be reaching out to members individually by the recommended phone, text or email, according to jewishduluth.org.

Rabbi David Steinberg referred to their website as a resource for synagogue members, and there are bigger resources in the wider Jewish community, with a skyrocketing number of participants around the world.

Rabbi David Steinberg
Rabbi David Steinberg

Daf yomi (daily page) is the practice of studying the Talmud one page at a time. There are apps and online resources for this, such as myjewishlearning.com. Another resource for interfaith families is https://18doors.org.

In the past, you’d use a book, go to a library, ask a rabbi or your grandmother if you had questions of faith. And very importantly, being a regular participant in one’s synagogue community was a resource.

“Technology is really, really favorable in terms of connecting with the wider Jewish world," Steinberg said. "I’m on various internet groups and lists and services to constantly expand my Jewish knowledge and study. I know a lot of Jewish people do that as well, and that’s a wonderful thing. But it can’t replace human presence and connection in real time and real space.”

Rock Hill Community Church

They were reluctant to start recording and posting sermons at Rock Hill Community Church. It has been three months, and Sunday was their first fully live-streamed service. They had more than 2,000 views and a lot of engagement, said lead pastor Kyle Eaton.

This is a time when people need to know their pastors are there for them, he said. So, at Rock Hill, they’re connecting through Zoom and Google Hangouts. He has encouraged small meetings in homes.

Kyle Eaton
Kyle Eaton

He posts daily four-minute videos of encouragement online. They host open-prayer meetings at 2 p.m.

Online access can clear a barrier for those who feel intimidated to experience church, he said.

And while it’s a good supplement, “Online church is going to be pretty thin and hollow long-term,” he said. Zoom meetings aren’t the same as giving someone a hug.

And Eaton noted unintended consequences.

“Technology, a lot of ways, is amoral. You can use the internet to watch porn or you can use the internet to watch church and hear the word of God, and all the things in between,” Eaton said.

His mantras through during health measures as the result of COVID-19: respond in faith, not fear. Love thy neighbor and exercise wisdom, pick up the phone and:

“Time with God, whether that’s a podcast and scripture reading, or opening your Bible," he said.

Chabad of Duluth

Rabbi Mendy Ross talks about his love of Chanukah is the director Chabad Duluth. They have closed services and gatherings as the result of COVID-19. (2018 file / News Tribune)
Rabbi Mendy Ross talks about his love of Chanukah is the director Chabad Duluth. They have closed services and gatherings as the result of COVID-19. (2018 file / News Tribune)

Passover begins April 8, and people are planning to spend it at home, said Rabbi Mendy Ross, director of Chabad of Duluth. There is no substitution for in-person meetings, he said, but they have canceled programs and gatherings and moved their classes online.

“It’s tough. In Judaism, personal interactions are extremely important. You need a quorum of a certain amount of people to do certain prayers. We are limited in certain things, and we’re going to miss out, but it’s important to keep people safe,” Ross said.

In general, he tries to limit his personal use of social media, but for his work, he uses it a lot. Chabad of Duluth keeps an active Facebook page, and they’re on Instagram.

For now, Ross is still meeting one-on-one and taking care to focus on helping people in need. Moving forward with COVID-19, Ross said to look at positive things we can do, along with the appropriate health measures:

“This is out of our control," he said. "I would encourage people to sing songs and pray. That’s definitely something we can all do that can really help ourselves and our communities.”

  • In next week's Pursuits: Northland clergy and parishioners talk about canceled Catholic Mass.