Religious leaders say covid-19 has accelerated virtual worship
As places of worship gradually open up, a local church in Salford is working towards using an advanced software that would allow its members check-in and get seat numbers before going into church.
A pastor in the local assembly said the measure being put in place is solely to ensure safety and adhere to the UK government rules on social distancing.
Sesan Adediji, Acting Pastor, Winners Chapel International, Salford, said: “we are working to adopt an online booking system on our website where members book in and get allocated seat numbers to control the population. “Once the seats are full, the system software will book the person for a second service or instruct to stay home and stream virtually when service is fully booked.”
He added: “ We have asked the aged from 70+ to stay home, nursing mothers, pregnant women and high-risk individuals to stay home. Despite the fact that we have tried to control the number of people that would be able to come into church, we still have to stream virtually for others who cannot.”
The church was one of the many religious centres that went virtual during the lockdown and streamed their services to their over one thousand worshipers at home.
Sesan said virtual streaming at the beginning had its hitches trying to understand the proper use of various technology, editing the clips to fit a reasonable time frame but overall it made work from home easy and also helped the church to gain more members across various parts of the world and also save running costs.
He further added: “We are still growing, learning and know that the virtual service is here to stay. We have had discussions in the past about adopting a proper online streaming service but the covid19 pandemic has triggered and accelerated the change.
“It has made things easy; you relax and get your work done, and meetings that were done face to face have now gone permanently virtual. As far as winners chapel Manchester is concerned, virtual church service has come to stay and there’s no going back.”
Another pastor in Bracknell is of a different view about his local assembly of over a thousand members re-opening. He said some worshippers may not be comfortable in the building and it may be seemingly impossible to stream and at the same time have a face-to-face service.
Ben Oliver, Executive Pastor Kerith Community Church Bracknell: “Christianity hasn’t stopped just because we can’t get into a building. The church isn’t the building but the people.
“My observation is, whenever we have got together, it’s really hard for people to remember social distancing. The reality is that we might be in a high-risk environment opening our buildings and there’s a thousand people and we won’t be able to fit them in and socially distance.
Ben said that the church had to purchase equipment that helped them to successfully stream services. It also joined the furlough scheme to help some members who were active workers in the church without any other means of livelihood.
Religious worship centres also struggled to provide spiritual support and comfort to bereaved members who lost loved ones to covid-19 or other illnesses. The church had four Covid cases with only one death where the funeral was broadcasted via zoom for people to join in.
Ben added: “We would basically do the legal part for a wedding, the committal part of a funeral and broadcast it on zoom for anybody who wanted to join in. we have also told the families to come back next year if the wanted to for a fuller celebration.
“Moving online to some extent has been very successful, we need to see a crisis like this as an accelerator. The changes started gradually but Covid 19 has accelerated. we do think we will not be able to switch off the digital, we would have to be like that forever.”
Other religious centres like the synagogues are not left behind in the adjustment to the use of virtual tools in connecting with their congregation and finding ways to help those in need during the pandemic.
Rabbi (Dr) Robert Reuven Silverman, Manchester Reform Synagogue: “It’s been a learning curve for me, I didn’t know that zoom existed before we started so I’ve had to learn everything. We are learning on the job and in terms of the future, we want to reach out to member of our community who do not have the technical equipment or ability to use it, we are giving advice on that so that we can pull people together and invite the community in that way.
“Obviously there can’t be any hospital visiting or any visiting of any kind, so everything depends on telephone conversations and all synagogue business meetings are held via zoom.
Rabbi Reuven added: “Virtual services are here to stay, but many people like me have zoom doubts and can’t wait to get back to normal and meeting in real time space.”
It has been most difficult for families who lost their loved ones in the midst of a pandemic. They could not give a proper funeral to their loved ones or get all their friends and families to attend.
Deborah Lewis, 50, Theme Park Ranger, Milton Keynes, said: “I lost my dad as a result of Covid, just had his 74th birthday and within 12 days of his illness he died.
“He was in an induced coma and the decision was taken within the family that we turn off his life support because we were told even if he had recovered his quality of life would have been very low and he has always been a very active person. So, we had to weigh if it was us being selfish holding on to him or we should let him go which we did because we don’t think he would have enjoyed life with the quality of life he would have had.”
Deborah who is also the founder of Covid 19 families support group on Facebook for those who have lost loved ones with about 850 members across the UK, said: “We were very lucky that our sister was allowed to go into the hospital with full PPE on the condition that she self-isolated after he passed away, so that made things extremely difficult. My sister had to isolate, and we couldn’t even comfort one another.
“It was really hard when my sister did some of the video of the ceremony, but she got so emotional that she couldn’t continue and had to cut it. We considered doing a live stream but, in the event, we were able to get a video of all his former colleagues applauding the hearse as it went by and that’s a lovely memory we can hold.”