Record numbers of people are turning to online faith platforms during the coronavirus crisis as their places of worship have shut down indefinitely and people of faith are urged to remain at home.
The crisis has worsened just as Easter and Passover, high points of the year in the Christian and Jewish faiths, will be celebrated in the coming weeks.
“For the past several weeks, as Catholic dioceses around the country and around the world have suspended Masses, EWTN has been seeing a dramatic increase in media consumption,” Michael P. Warsaw, board chairman and CEO of the EWTN Global Catholic Network, told Breitbart News:
For example, our video on demand platforms alone are seeing an increase over previous traffic levels between 300-500% daily. We have seen our general web traffic increasing by over 500% on some days.
While we don’t know the exact audience numbers, there is no doubt that our television and radio networks are seeing huge increases as well. People have a great deal of anxiety and fear at this moment and it’s clear that they are looking for hope, something that EWTN can help provide.
Warsaw explained how his network has reached out to people during the crisis:
First and foremost, we have maintained a live daily televised Mass from our Chapel at the Network headquarters in Irondale, Alabama. This Mass is also repeated several times daily on our television channels and streaming services. We have now made that Mass available on-demand on our digital platforms. In addition, we have reformatted one of our radio channels to focus on prayers and devotionals, including multiple daily airings of the Mass. All of these have been extremely popular. We also are streaming live Eucharistic Adoration on our website, which gives people around the world a place to go where they can pray with others simultaneously. EWTN has also added a number of other devotional programs across all of our platforms to meet people’s needs.
Family Research Council (FRC), a nonprofit research and educational organization that advocates for a family-centered philosophy of public life and espouses a biblical worldview, has provided a resource page titled “COVID-19 and the Church” on its website. The site offers creative ideas for churches and ministries to continue faith encounters in a safe manner during the crisis.
In his “Washington Update” Thursday, FRC President Tony Perkins especially emphasized the seriousness of the coronavirus crisis:
This crisis is deadly serious. And while I know there are still faith leaders out there who doubt the motivation behind the shutdown, I assure you, churches are not being targeted. The CDC’s standards have been applied across the board to every organization, non-essential business, sanctuary, school, and other facility.
Of course, there are other countries — like China — who are using the virus as an excuse to crack down on faith even more. That isn’t the case here. We have a president, vice president, and administration more committed to religious freedom than any other.
Perkins called on faith leaders to be creative with their ministries during this time:
And fortunately, as we’ve discovered over the last few weeks, faith leaders don’t have to sit at home twiddling their thumbs and waiting for worst to pass. There are plenty of creative ways for church leaders to continue ministering to their congregations and their communities. If you need ideas or suggestions, visit our website: FRC.org/church. In the meantime, do your part. The best way you can love your community is to protect it.
Orthodox Jews may also turn to online platform Zoom to celebrate the Passover Seder during the pandemic.
According to a report at the Jerusalem Post, despite the usual Orthodox prohibition on the use of electricity on Shabbat and holidays, senior Orthodox rabbis are permitting families to use the cloud video platform to join with each other for Passover.
The Post reported:
In a remarkable ruling, senior Orthodox rabbis have given permission for people to use the Zoom video conferencing service at the Passover Seder to allow families separated by the coronavirus pandemic to connect with one another on what is one of the high points of the Jewish calendar.
Rabbi Eliyahu Abergel, a highly respected arbiter of Jewish law who served as the head of the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court for a decade, together with several other municipal chief rabbis, wrote in response to requests to use Zoom at the Passover Seder that it would be possible under certain restrictions due to the “time of emergency” currently being experienced.
Some faith leaders say online ministry services that are offering a more individualized faith experience during the crisis may change the way worship happens in some communities even after this episode has subsided.
“I think we have an opportunity, actually, to engage at a deeper level,” Judah Smith, lead pastor of Churchome, with locations in Seattle and Los Angeles, told Fox News. “We’re finding that actually being home, engaging face-to-face is going to lead us actually to an interesting place in faith and I think will change how we worship going forward.”
“Church is still happening!” Churchome states on its website:
In times like these, we are so grateful for our interactive online church experience. If you haven’t yet downloaded the free Churchome app, we encourage you to do so!
Church will be LIVE on Sunday 3/29 at 9am and 12pm (PT) on the Churchome app, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, & @judahsmith Instagram Live.
Visitors to the website can download Churchome’s free app. The ministry’s online services “include an inspiring message, time to connect with God through music, and an opportunity to meet with others in the live digital Lobby!” states the website.
“Our hope is that our community would continue to find meaningful ways to connect even when it’s difficult to gather together in this season!” Churchome adds.
According to the Fox News report, Smith says the Churchome app has grown by 110 percent, with attendance surging 139 percent.
“This is an opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and learn to love your neighbor as yourself,” the pastor said. “I think church at home and church in smaller settings is going to be a massive trend going for many, many years.”
Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie, policy advisor for The Catholic Association, said in a statement to Breitbart News that “‘sudden distancing’ from rites, sacraments, adoration, and warm, supportive parish communities has left millions of American Catholics bereft and unmoored at a time of heightened anxiety.”
Thankfully, online resources are comforting us spiritually and reconnecting us virtually. Countless Catholics are watching daily masses and of course Sunday masses which are being live-streamed from around the world. This way, regular people are joining the chronically homebound who have long depended on television to “attend” mass. For additional spiritual nourishment, podcasts like “Conversations with Consequences” from The Catholic Association are available, as well as the Dominican-led Thomistic Institute’s “Quarantine Lectures” just to mention two of many thousands on offer.
“We can’t physically congregate, but the internet is coming through for us,” Christie observed.