Virus forces creativity in faith-based connections

Editor’s note: Visit the official Western COVID-19 website for the latest campus updates.

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Normally, this is one of the busiest and most connection-filled times of the year for Western’s faith communities. Jewish Passover celebration that began Wednesday; Christian Holy Week culminates in Easter Sunday; and the month-long Muslim Ramadan will start April 24.

But these are not normal times.

Physical distancing necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic has forced changes to how – and with whom – people celebrate the holy days. It has meant a rethink of how faith communities worship and support their adherents individually and collectively.

“This is the most important and the busiest of weeks in the liturgical cycle. From Passion Sunday through Easter Sunday, we celebrate rituals that date back to the fifth century,” said the Rev. Michael Bechard of Christ the King University Parish at King’s University College.

The parish usually gathers daily and twice on Easter Sunday for worship, he said. “Confessions abound and there is a great deal of attention given to women and men who are seeking welcome into the Christian community. We also gather outside of the worship space over food and drink to celebrate the joy that is ours.”

This year, the Catholic campus ministry has been running services online every day (and will continue to do so through Sunday). They have connected with people on their distribution lists and some have sought counsel by phone or video link.

“Despite everyone’s best efforts there is still a longing to gather as a family of faith,” he said. Many keenly feel the loss of community, including loss of connection during exam time.

“Physical distancing has been challenging for many in our community and spending so much time alone has left many feeling anxious and afraid. Added to this is the sad reality many of our students left without being able to say goodbye to their classmates and friends. The church was a gathering place for many of these students,” Bechard said.

Churches, synagogues and mosques have all suspended services; gatherings of more than five people (unless they are immediate family members) are banned as Canada seeks to limit the spread of COVID-19.

For the Jewish campus community, Chabad at Western has prepared online resources for celebrating Passover in a time of Coronavirus. It describes how to celebrate Seder dinner alone – Seder is usually a time for extended family to gather – and how to do a pre-Seder gathering by Zoom. (Electronic devices are not permitted during the holiday or on the Sabbath.)

Hillel Western has posted a Passover message to its Instagram account, encouraging its members, “Next year, together.” A student club, Hillel’s message says its staff are supporting and connecting with students virtually. “No matter where they are, Hillel strives to ensure that no one feels isolated or alone.”

London Muslim Mosque, which many in the Western community attend for Friday prayers, has taken to Zoom and Facebook Live for its Ramadan preparation workshop planned for April 18.