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Zooming, live-streaming boosts weary houses of worship

By Kathy Daley
Posted 1/28/22

Last summer and into the fall, things were looking a bit brighter for places of worship. “We were on an uptick right through October,” said Rev. Edward Bader of St. Peter's Catholic …

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Zooming, live-streaming boosts weary houses of worship


Last summer and into the fall, things were looking a bit brighter for places of worship.
“We were on an uptick right through October,” said Rev. Edward Bader of St. Peter's Catholic Church in Liberty. “We were going in the right direction.

“Then,” he said, “Omicron came, and then the bad weather. Now attendance is down again.”
U.S. statistics reveal that crowds attending worship services are down 30 percent or more since the pandemic began in 2020, with smaller churches particularly hard hit. That translates into financial struggles for churches, synagogues and mosques as donations teeter.

“Don't forget your churches,” urged Rev. Diana S. Scheide of Callicoon in a phone interview. “We're still feeding people. We're still offering counseling.”

Vicar of the Delaware Catskill Episcopal Ministry, Scheide and vicar Jean-Pierre Seguin together serve four churches: St. James Episcopal Church in Callicoon, St. Andrew in South Fallsburg, St. John in Monticello and Grace Church in Port Jervis. All offer food pantries for the wider community. The latest effort to feed the hungry is a food pantry partnership with SUNY Sullivan.

As for church services in person, it's been on and off during COVID's nearly two-year stint, said Scheide.

“But we began zooming our services at one point out of necessity,” she explained. “Now people are also joining us from out of state. Some are snowbirds, others are friends of friends.”

One local 100-year-old churchgoer dons her Sunday best as she happily participates in the service with other church members, all on Zoom.

“She comes to church every Sunday,” said Scheide.

Soon, Scheide will take up in-person visiting again – congregants who need her – but she will be giving herself a COVID test beforehand to make sure she's safe to be around.

So much is different: “Church is a social place,” said Scheide. “We haven't been able to have our (fund-raising) dinners, for example. And stress is clear in everyone you talk to. People have lost family members and couldn't even have funerals.”

Father Bader, who is the Dean of Catholic churches in Sullivan County, live-streams his in-person Sunday 10 a.m. Mass at the church on Liberty's Main Street. At the same time, while real people sit in the church pews.

One side of the church is set up for parishioners who are concerned about social distancing and feel more safe with an “every-other pew” set up.

A lay person gives out communion at those pews. The other side of the church is for people who are less worried. They go up to the altar to receive communion. Masks are mandatory for all.
Still, numbers of in-person worshippers have noticeably declined since the fall.

“If they don't come back, we're still here for weddings and funerals,” said Bader.

But the priest is delighted that some 180 to 200 Sunday worshippers experience the Mass live-streamed into their homes. And during the week, another 500 people or so tune into the Sunday Mass that took place a few days before.

“I think live-streaming is great,” Bader said.

When COVID forced the closing of churches in March 2020, he began by live-streaming morning and evening prayer, that is, the monastic-initiated group of psalms, canticles and readings for each day.

“People loved it,” Bader said. “I'll pick it up again for Lent.”

Synagogues have gone virtual too. Judy Siegel, president of Agudas Achim Synagogue in Livingston Manor, said that COVID's link with Zooming has actually allowed the shul to “open” January, February and March when it typically would close for the winter.

Monthly Shabbat services and high holy days are zoomed with Rabbi Fred Pomerantz and cantors Ira and Julia Levin leading.

Now, Zoomers from Florida, California, Illinois, Texas and elsewhere are involved with the Manor synagogue community all year long. And new homeowners moving into Sullivan County since COVID began have found Agudas Achim as well.

“We're hoping to reach more people locally,” said Siegel, who lives in Liberty. “We plan to open live in April, with the services also being live-streamed through Zoom.”

“The pandemic,” Siegel said, “has shown us how important the connection is between religion and community - the importance of that soul that connects us all.”


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