At least 25 places of worship announced on their online websites that they postponed services after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced March 16 that at least until the end of March, “all U.S. events of 10 or more people should be cancelled or held virtually.” Some RBHS students, including sophomore Luke Stagg, senior Yaser Al-Rawi and senior Gillian Lancaster, said these closings affected their religious practice.
Luke Stagg, sophomore
Stagg is a member of the Disciples of Christ denomination of Christianity and his father is the pastor at their place of worship — First Christian Church. It was announced March 16 the church would close because of the threat of the coronavirus (COVID-19). Currently, Stagg’s father plans to resume services April 5 for Palm Sunday, a feast that falls on the Sunday before Easter. However, Stagg said the church will remain closed if COVID-19 still presents a threat.
“I had been discussing [suspending services] with my father much earlier before [March 16]. [All members] believed it was in the best interest of the congregation for the church to be canceled,” Stagg said. “We have a lot of elderly members, many of which are devout church-goers. If we didn’t directly cancel services, they certainly would have come at the risk of their health. My dad had been thinking the same thing, and I was relieved and grateful that the [church] board made a wise choice.”
Rev. Jimmy Spear, the Associate Minister at First Christian Church, is part of the church board that decided to postpone services for the next two weeks. Rev. Spear said the board plans to reevaluate the situation on March 30 and plan accordingly from there.
“Our congregation was completely supportive of the decision. It was appropriate.” Rev. Spear said. “Other churches and most of the community have done the same thing, so we are in sync with them.”
First Christian Church plans to send out worship resources in the church paper and online weekly newsletter; Rev. Spear said this is particularly for the older population that is not regularly online. They plan to continue utilizing social media to connect to people to talk and share stories of life and faith, and to promote prayers in the following weeks.
“Our congregation was completely supportive of the decision. Other churches and most of the community have done the same thing, so we are in sync with them.”
Alongside the worship services at the church, the preschool program, youth groups, bible studies suspended meetings. Rev. Spear said the preschool program is following the Columbia Public Schools decision to close until April 13. The other programs and activities plan to reopen once worship services recommence. Stagg said all church staff members and preschool staff members will be paid as if they were still present at their job.
First Christian Church plans to record services and post the videos on YouTube so that people can still participate in a traditional Sunday service from a safe space. Stagg, an aspiring filmmaker and co-President of the filmmaking club at RBHS, said he recently started to use his directing and camera-working skills to help record and edit the upcoming services that will be streamed online.
“After about four long hours [on March 19], we finally wrapped up the principal photography for the next two services. I just wrapped up the editing of the project and the creation of my church’s official YouTube channel,” Stagg said. “We think it is necessary to provide a church service even when the building is not accessible. Really, the church is a people rather than a place, so we do not want to allow the restrictions from the coronavirus to prevent a church experience altogether.”
Yaser Al-Rawi, senior
Al-Rawi, a member of the Muslim Student Union club at RBHS, said the concerns of COVID-19 spread rapidly and forced his place of worship — the Islamic Center of Central Missouri (ICCM) — to take drastic and quick measures. The ICCM announced via its online website that it will no longer hold the Jumua prayer or any of the five daily prayers — Fajr, Dhuhr, Asr, Maghrib, Isha — at the ICCM beginning March 21 until further notice.
“I remember someone told me about [ICCM closing] the week before [CPS] closed, and I felt shocked at first. It has always been the expectation to go to Friday prayer if you are able to go. I don’t remember a time when [ICCM] ever shut down for an extended period, or any time for that matter,” Al-Rawi said. “I had never experienced the mosque shutting down in my life, but it made sense to me afterward. Our community’s health is always a top priority.”
In addition to prayer services, ICCM suspended Rabbaniyah, the youth group program, along with all other events and meetings. Although Al-Rawi said the situation is surreal, he ultimately believes people must do their part to contain the disease as best they can and protect everyone in the community. The ICCM does not currently plan to conduct virtual services, as individual prayer is still an option for its members.
“I remember someone told me about [ICCM closing] the week before [CPS] closed, and I felt shocked at first… I had never experienced the mosque shutting down in my life, but it made sense to me afterward. Our community’s health is always a top priority.“
“There are also a few nights in which the ICCM provides meals for those in need, and COVID-19 has made that a problem. Overall, everyone’s trying to fight through this period of time together,” Al-Rawi said. “I, like everyone else who goes to the ICCM, will continue prayer at home. Right now, there’s no time table for the continuation of normal prayer, but hopefully the virus will pass soon so that everyone can get back to their normal lives.”
Gillian Lancaster, senior
Lancaster, president of the Jewish Student Union, said her place of worship — Congregation Beth Shalom — announced March 12 that it was closing all services in response to the CDC’s statement on health concerns, cancelations of other local places of worship and the general threat of COVID-19. Congregation Beth Shalom has had to close services for ice storms in the past, however, it was never for more than two days. Lancaster is a teacher at the Sunday school, and it was canceled last week. The school and other activities are closed indefinitely, however, Lancaster said leaders aren’t planning to keep all programs and services closed for the entire year.
Lancster said she understands why Congregation Beth Shalom decided to close and said it was important for the safety of the temple members. She and her family plan to continue practicing their faith by holding a Friday night Shabbat dinner — a feast celebrating Judaism’s day of rest — every week. While Lancaster said it will be odd not going to Congregation Beth Shalom for service and the Sunday school, praying at home keeps her faith strong.
“I thought that this was the right decision and understood why they closed,” Lancaster said. “I think it’s important [to prioritize] the safety of the temple members.”
All three students said the pressing health and safety concerns from COVID-19 created an unsettling and unreal time in their lives. Since moving to Columbia from Houston eight years ago, Stagg said he never remembered a time when his church postponed services. Al-Rawi and Lancaster have similar experiences with their respective religions. Nevertheless, each student thinks most places of worship made the right decision in stopping services.
“As stated before, I think this was the best choice for our community. This virus is a serious threat to the whole country, and the continuation of services for the time being would be an unethical decision,” Stagg said. “Every member of our community, and everyone around the globe, should do the best they can to decrease the spread of the coronavirus for the safety of our populations.”
How has your place of worship been affected by the health and safety concerns stemming from COVID-19? Let us know in the comments below.