Houses of worship say their prayers to in-person services
Gail Katz looked forward to upcoming events at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield Township, including a ceremonial meal tied to Passover and prayers during Friday services on the one-year anniversaries of deaths in her family.
But with coronavirus cases rising in Michigan, the former is canceled, and she must now tune in to at least one of the latter online after the synagogue suspended in-person gatherings through April 19.
"It’s definitely impacting my life," she said, adding other interfaith events she's involved in also are off. "It’s a whole different world we live in right now."
Various faiths in Michigan have taken dramatic measures against the coronavirus, including halting in-person worship services and opting for activities online.
The Archdiocese of Detroit suspended all public Masses through April 6 to prevent the spread of respiratory illness, the archdiocese said Friday. The decision was made after consultation with health professionals and government leaders, Archbishop Allen Vigneron said in a statement. He encouraged parishioners instead to make a spiritual communion or watch Mass from home online and said the decision was not made lightly.
"As Mass is a commemoration of Christ’s great act of love for us, we take this unprecedented measure with eyes fixed on him and his greatest commandment to love one another, which in this difficult time means that we ensure the health and safety of our community by following the wise counsel of local, state, and federal government and health officials," said Vigneron, who said the schedule is subject to change depending on the development of the virus.
The directive from Vigneron is effective Saturday.
Churches will remain open for private prayer and baptisms, and weddings and funerals can be performed on a discretionary basis, but pastors must ensure no more than 100 people are present at any given time, Vigneron said.
Confessions, anointings and other individual services will occur on a case-by-case basis, according to the archdiocese.
In other parts of the state, the Dioceses of Lansing and Kalamazoo dispensed parishioners from the "grave obligation" to attend Sunday Mass. The Diocese of Grand Rapids suspended services through March 29.
Many religious groups, institutions and houses of worship in Metro Detroit also have stopped offering services and gatherings, instructing devout followers to pray at home or online.
Some leaders say becoming accustomed to no handshakes, hugs, or close contact in the pews will challenge the faithful.
"It’s surreal because what faith groups normally do is come together … and to not be able to do that is a very difficult kind of hurdle for anyone," said Bob Bruttell, a Catholic and board vice chairman for the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit. "It’s a really difficult idea for me and for everyone that I’m aware of."
At Temple Shir Shalom synagogue in West Bloomfield Township, Rabbi Michael Moskowitz livestreamed Friday's evening worship service in front of an empty sanctuary.
As part of the restrictions, Friday night and Saturday morning services will be livestreamed on YouTube for the next two weeks, according to the website, and a high school program for Sunday is canceled for the next few weeks, the rabbi said. Another class is being taught through the Zoom online conferencing platform. Meanwhile, the building will be closed starting Monday, and there will be no face-to-face appointments.
“We’ve altered everything," Moskowitz said."We’re really working on creating that physical distance. It’s difficult because we’re hugging loving people who are doing that often.”
Rabbi Mark Miller noted his synagogue, Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Hills, began taking precautions, including regular cleanings and social distancing, a week ago. He said the temple’s rabbis and worshipers stopped shaking hands, and hugging and kissing when greeting each other.
“We made a number of changes last week and obviously things changed dramatically this week,” he said.
Miller said as of Friday, the temple has stopped all in-person group events. The synagogue, though, has not been closed, he said.
As a result, regular worship services Friday night and Saturday morning still will be held and livestreamed online at https://www.tbeonline.org.
After the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints temporarily suspended gatherings, Rachel Clawson and her family in Canton Township plan to worship at home on Sunday. She wonders when their normal routine can resume.
"It seems pretty dramatic, but also understandable considering the seriousness of the virus," she said.
Protestants take precautions
In a Friday video message, Bishop David Bard, who leads the Michigan Conference of the United Methodist Church, recommended that its more than 800 churches refrain from all in-person gatherings for the rest of March, including worship services, Bible studies and any other meetings.
"We are at a critical juncture in stemming the reach of coronavirus, and as a church, we can play an important role in slowing the spread of the COVID-19 disease," he said. "I'm not asking that you close the church. Only asking that together we find new ways to be the church," including giving donations and sharing information electronically.
"This is a time like none other we have ever experienced," Bard added. "I take this disease seriously, and I want the church to do its part for the health and well-being of our world."
The Michigan District, LCMS, one of the districts in the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, said in a Friday email its 300-plus churches should heed Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's order concerning suspending or postponing gatherings over 250 individuals.
Office staff is slated to work from home as much as possible from Monday through April 6. Meanwhile, if churches choose to worship, followers are asked to respect certain guidelines, including using disposable individual cups for Holy Communion, "greet one another with a smile and words of blessing" instead of physical contact, and applying hand sanitizer as well as hand washing frequently.
Five bishops representing leadership from Michigan’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Episcopal Church issued a joint statement Thursday that urged congregations to suspend all in-person worship services for the rest of the month.
The bishops leave the decision up to the local leadership and encourage consideration of alternative gatherings online.
“As People of God, it is our moral, civic and spiritual obligation to care for one another by taking the necessary steps to slow the spread of this virus and continue to serve our communities with generosity, hope and joy," the letter said.
She also called on worshipers to "be even more connected with one another in this time of medical uncertainty."
"Let us connect by phone, online and in small groups," she said. "Let us check not just on those of us who are vulnerable, but on all of us — for now more than ever, we are in need of God’s love, which we so often feel from each other."
Megachurches take action
Kensington Church, which has six locations across the region, including in Traverse City, announced Thursday on its Facebook page that leaders had "prayerfully decided to suspend all in-person services and gatherings" starting Saturday and through the end of March.
"Kensington Church will be streaming services in lieu of meeting in-person to protect the vulnerable, the elderly and the ones who depend on us to defend them," the post said. "The decision is not one of fear, but was made with wisdom, discernment and mindfulness."
Another megachurch, NorthRidge, which has locations in Plymouth Township, Brighton and Grosse Ile, also is suspending public services and ministry opportunities until further notice, Senior Pastor Brad Powell said Thursday night.
Weekend services still were expected to be streamed online at scheduled times, he said during a Facebook video filmed in an empty auditorium.
"This could be overblown, it could be exaggerated, it could fizzle out," said Powell, who also addressed followers in a letter. "I get it. But right now, we don’t know that. This could be devastating to people, and I think we need to care about that."
The Solanus Casey Center on Detroit's east side is scheduled to close indefinitely effective Friday, representatives said in an email.
Masses, blessing of the sick services and other events will be closed to the public but will be livestreamed via the Blessed Solanus Casey Facebook page and the Solanus Casey Center website. Confessions still will be available, officials said.
Meanwhile, the Imams Council of Michigan is asking Muslims to "perform prayer in your homes" and said all mosques are canceling Jummah congregations for at least the next two weeks to protect the community.
Mosques including the Islamic Institute of America in Dearborn Heights and the Islamic Center for America in Dearborn suspended Friday prayer services to limit the possible spread and spend time disinfecting and sanitizing washing stations, officials told The Detroit News.
The Michigan Muslim Community Council announced on Facebook that "most local mosques will be canceling lectures and classes for now."
The Islamic Center of America in Dearborn said all public events and gatherings are suspended until April. Worshipers can pray individually but are encouraged to bring their own prayer mats, keep a safe distance from others and stay home if feeling sick or showing symptoms.
"We ask our community to be patient through these trying times, to be strong in their faith and to take every necessary precaution to protect themselves, especially the most vulnerable among us like our seniors and those who are ill," mosque officials said in a Facebook post.
The 20th anniversary gala for the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations scheduled to take place March 22 has been postponed, organizers announced Thursday.
The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan also said it was postponing all in-person group programming for the next three weeks.
An invitation-only, interfaith Seder, an event linked to the upcoming Jewish Passover holiday, that was scheduled for March 23 at the Motown Museum in Detroit has been postponed, representatives said.
"We will continue to monitor the situation and take advice from authorities, and hope to reschedule these events as soon as we are able," the group said in a statement.
Attendees of the Hindu Bharatiya Temple in Troy also have to adjust. While the temple is slated to remain open, there are restrictions through next month, including halting a Sunday gathering that draws hundreds of devotees as well as a meal afterward, outreach committee chair Nasy Sankagiri said. Cleaning also has increased in recent weeks.
Despite the atmosphere, the members remain upbeat, he said.
"They are like: Do what you need to prepare and hope for the best."
The Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit and Vicinity is urging caution at its nearly 150 churches, but services were scheduled to continue, said the Rev. Steve Bland, its president.
At Russell Street Missionary Baptist in Detroit, the pews and equipment are continually sanitized, and Rev. DeeDee Coleman has spread the word about avoiding embraces and other touching. "It will take a minute for people to get it," Coleman said.
Brenda Price, a Detroiter who has attended the church for more than 20 years, is bringing hand sanitizer to worship but doesn't plan to stop going.
"It's very important to be able to have that opportunity and hear the message," she said. "It is in God we trust. You just have to take it to heart and roll with it, in addition to the advice of the experts."
The Rev. Lawrence C. Glass Jr., who leads El Bethel Baptist in Redford Township, expects fewer attendees during the two Sunday services, and a team will be wiping down the pews between them. He'll consider moving online if needed, but for now, "the church is going to go on in one way, fashion or another. ... You can have it in ways you may not have traditionally had it, but you can still express your faith in God."
Staff Writers Sarah Rahal and Charles E. Ramirez contributed.