Leaders Turn Online to Inspire Faith on Passover, Easter

The youngest person at a Passover seder traditionally asks four questions — one of which is “Why is this night different from all other nights?”
This year, the question might also be “Why is this year different from all other years?”
This year, congregants and friends at Temple Beth Israel in Highland Park are celebrating a second-night seder on Zoom, a popular visual online site, due to the coronavirus social distancing norms.
“We hope to make it feel like as much as family as possible,” said Rabbi Jason Rosner.
The rabbi said that until a few weeks ago, the temple hadn’t missed gathering for a Saturday morning Sabbath service since 1930. The temple, with roots in Conservative Judaism and which also serves congregants in South Pasadena, are now offering all services online.
“Online” is also the order of the day this Holy Week at South Pasadena churches, where the virus — and the laws enacted to severely limit the number of people who can gather — have forced churches to offer only online gatherings, at least in California.
Perhaps a banner in front of St. James Episcopal Church on Monterey Road says it best, reading: “God is not socially distant. Stay connected.”
Connected is what rabbis, priests, reverends and pastors everywhere hope their congregants will be during the holidays this week.
“I think everyone has been understanding of the situation,” said the Rev. Lincoln Skinner of Oneonta Congregational Church on Garfield Avenue. “We’ve had a lot of support even though it takes away from the normal sense of the service. This is an opportunity to grow our trust in God and rely on our spiritual connection. The congregation understands that God is present in the midst of this crisis.”
Skinner said that his congregation normally goes “all out” on Easter Sunday with an Easter egg hunt for the children and a brunch for the congregation.
That will have to wait, and the Easter bonnets will have to be confined to the households.
“I’m sure there will be a sense of loss,” said Skinner, who has had to preach from an empty pulpit or from home for the past few weeks.
Meanwhile, the gathering on Passover — which commemorates the deliverance of Jews from slavery in Egypt — is celebrated with ritual foods on the seder table. Many of these foods were delivered in boxes to homes before the holiday so congregants would not have to worry about going out to the market.
“Passover is traditionally a home-based holiday so it is not as big a leap as if it were Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement),” Rosner said.
The temple had 65 people at its community seder last year and hopes to get 40-60 people at its Zoom seder. It is asking for donations for tickets and/or to sponsor a portion of the service. The congregation is also helping to support and disperse face shields being made by a local man for first responders.
These kind of good deeds are being echoed at local churches, which are asking people to remember others during Easter.
“Where charity and love prevail, love is always found,” said the Rev. Anne Tumilty, in a letter to the congregation at St. James. “We have witnessed
so many acts of love, outreach and kindness since the beginning of this crisis that I know God is at work right now.
“We are called to be people of love and compassion, especially in this time of trial and suffering.”
Tumilty said the Great Vigil of Easter will be online via Zoom and a security access password will be sent out to parishioners to avoid someone crashing the service — as has been happening around the country.
Holy Family Catholic Church on Fremont Avenue hosted a reconciliation service this week, where congregants prayed for essential workers — health-care professionals, grocery store employees and delivery workers.
Parishioners will be encouraged on Good Friday to have their own crucifix at home and follow a live-stream image of the cross instead of completely forgoing the tradition of passing around a cross and kissing it.
All of the places of worship in South Pasadena have been taking advantage of modern tools such as Zoom, YouTube, texts, and, by the good-old telephone.
The Rev. Millason Dailey, of the Calvary Presbyterian Church on Fremont Avenue, held a “fireside chat” with her congregation, sitting in her home with a blanket over her lap. She opened up about her own anxiety and how she has tried to cope with it during this trying time.
Over at ReNew United Methodist Church on Monterey Road, church leaders have shifted to hold online prayer meetings, bible studies and live-streaming Sunday worship services.
“The feedback from our members has been very positive. Obviously, many are sad and grieving that we aren’t worshipping in the church, but the overwhelming number of our parishioners understand that this is the very best we can do at this time,” said Rev. Sam Park.
“For Easter, we are doing as much as we can. We know that there are many who wanted to attend an Easter service, but now can’t, so we are going to encourage them to worship with us on our live stream. The theme of the message will be ‘Fear Nothing’. I believe it will be timely for our world nation and community.”
Holy Family is also live-streaming its Easter services on its website, and schedules are posted there.
In his Palm Sunday homily at Holy Family, Fr. Denis Maher talked about the suffering caused by the coronavirus.
“People ask ‘Where is God?’” Maher said. “We all go through suffering at some time or another. It is an integral part of life.
“God is never closer than when we are going through pain and suffering. Don’t lose hope.”
Several members of the clergy said they think the idea of using online methods to reach congregants has expanded the idea of prayer.
“It’s an opportunity for us to step into the 21st Century in a small way,” Skinner said. “People have sent in comments that the services have been reassuring and inspirational. Some said they were moved to tears by saying ‘The Lord’s Prayer.’”