Ari Dubow / Sun News Editor

Temple Beth-El in Fall Creek and other places of worship to offer new forms of support to members in light of COVID-19.

March 13, 2020

Texts, Live Streams and Phone Calls Become New Venues For Prayer in Ithaca

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Members of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church may soon share worship with “prayer partners” over phone calls and texts. Places of worship in Ithaca are working to bring prayer to their members in any way possible, as large gatherings across the world are discouraged or banned in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, services are now live streamed for churchgoers who feel uncomfortable joining a large gathering, according to Teressa Sivers, senior pastor of the church.

For Rabbi Miriam Spitzer of Temple Beth-El, a conservative synagogue in Fall Creek, a lot of the importance of pushing through the constraints imposed by health precautions is to help support the elderly.

“It’s the people who are most susceptible to the virus who are also the most susceptible to being lonely and isolated,” Spitzer said. “I think places of worship are uniquely situated to help deal with the spiritual and social ramifications of what’s going on.”

The church’s congregants are relieved to know that their religious community will remain intact through the unpredictability of this global pandemic, Sivers said.

“I think people actually are feeling the comfort of knowing their faith community is surrounding them in prayer and love,” Sivers said.

Clergy members in Tompkins County have been in contact with one another, trying to figure out the best way to continue religious services with the health precautions necessitated by COVID-19.

Precautions against the pandemic have put difficult restraints on the normal religious routines.

“We’ve stopped kissing ritual objects. These are ingrained habits, they’re religiously meaningful,” Spitzer said. “I’ve spent my whole adult life teaching people not to do this and now I have to quit cold turkey.”

According to Ngawang Dhondup, administrator of Namgyal Monastery Institute of Buddhist Studies in Ithaca, all classes and meditations have been cancelled, and the monastery on highway 96B south of Ithaca College, closed on March 10 to all visitors from the public — only the monks who live at the monastery remain on the premises.

For Gousios, the conjunction of constraints on large gatherings and Lent has been difficult to handle.

“It’s just kind of ironic,” Gousios said. “This is a time to devote ourselves to spiritual life and the church typically offers more prayer and worship services to help accommodate that.”

Gousios said that the church does not have the technological ability to live stream services, and so will have to design other strategies for reaching members of the community, such as door-to-door communion.

Spitzer sought to take the crisis in stride: “Who knows if it’s not for a time like this that we were created, in order to fulfill the needs of this kind of trauma.”