Keeping the faith in coronavirus era

While heroic health care providers are on the front lines, putting themselves at risk as they care for patients being ravaged by the novel coronavirus, faith leaders and their congregations are playing an indispensable role providing spiritual healing and comfort, while also helping to care for the physical needs of many.

The cruel irony of the COVID-19 pandemic is that the need to maintain community and hold each other close is colliding with the imperative that we stay apart from one another physically. Pastor Day McCallister of First Church Somerville and Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz of Temple Emanuel in Newton offer vivid testimony on this week’s Codcast to all the ways that faith communities are overcoming that barrier.

Gardenswartz said the temple’s daily prayer service usually drew 15 to 20 people to the synagogue. “Now that we’re streaming it online, we get more than 200 people following it,” he says. “The ironic impact is that more people are connected spiritually in this age of physical distancing than were connected spiritually before because it fulfills human needs for meaning and purpose, especially at a hard time.”

“We have online Zoom classes that are reaching a lot more people and [we are doing] a lot more justice work, a lot more loving kindness work — a lot more impact of people helping people,” he says. “All of that is on fire. All of that is alive in ways that are deeper than happened before COVID-19.”

At First Church Somerville, Day says regular sit-down meals for the homeless have transitioned to take-out meals that are being prepared each day. The church has given over its more spacious sanctuary, in place of the usual use of a church meeting room, so that the local Alcoholics Anonymous chapter can continue to meet while observing physical distancing.

Meanwhile, the church is live-streaming readings of bedtime stories for children, and Day is hosting twice daily online “dance breaks,” where she leads church members — and anyone else who wants to log on. “We turn up the music, we stand up, and we just shake out all of this anxiety, fear, confusion that so many of us are feeling,” she says.

Church members have pledged to make 50 masks per week for health care workers facing shortages of protective equipment and they are preparing home cooked meals to be delivered to health care providers. For those who may be struggling to buy groceries, they are raising money to provide them with gift cards for supermarkets.

“The church has never been about the building,” says Day. “It’s never been about the structure of worship. It has always been about a love that is abiding, a love that abides from the creator to created. And a love that abides between those of us who are the created. This is an opportunity for us to extend that love.”

Temple Emanuel has paid special attention to the congregation’s huge population of older members — more than 500 congregants over age 70. “Just when they need people the most, they have people the least,” says Gardenswartz. “Every member of our community who is older than 70 has received multiple calls from people.” For those who need groceries, younger temple members are delivering food to their doors. “That kind of thing happens multiple times a day, every day. It’s another irony that there’s more decency, more justice, more impact going on now than before,” he says.

Both faith leaders pointed to the place in the Christian and Jewish calendars that we find ourselves in as the world confronts the crisis.

“We are in the Christian season of lent, and liturgically this is a time when Christians are reflective, when we are sort of contending with our own mortality,” says Day. “And so to be having these conversations around COVID-19 during the season of lent has actually been very helpful. We haven’t had to rewrite many sermons over here. We were already going to be talking about the messiness of humanity and the messiness of humanity that is seen in the life and death of Jesus and the messiness that we see in doing our work to remain connected one to another as humans. And this time has certainly given us a lot to examine.”

“This is part of our Passover season when we talk about the Exodus and we go from slavery to freedom,” says Gardenswartz. “The lesson of Passover is that suffering happens and it is on us to redeem that suffering by being more empathetic and more compassionate. Be kind to the vulnerable because you were slaves. Therefore, be kind to the oppressed because you were slaves. Therefore, see those who are not seen and hear those who are not heard, convert your pain into empathy, convert the worst thing that ever happened to you into becoming a better person. And I think that’s what we’re trying to do. How can the coronavirus that nobody asked for, that causes untold suffering, how can it inspire us to become the best versions of ourselves? That’s our spiritual homework.”

MICHAEL JONAS


BEACON HILL

A Globe editorial urges the Legislature to figure out a way to hold its sessions online.

Here’s a list of the orders and directives issued so far by the Baker administration. (State House News)

Rep. William Pignatelli urges the Baker administration to crack down on Airbnb and other short-term rental operators who he believes are renting to people wanting to escape cities for the Berkshires. (Berkshire Eagle)

Gov. Charlie Baker urged travelers coming into Massachusetts to self-quarantine for 14 days. (CommonWealth) He  stresses the need for blood donations. (State House News Service)

The state’s public health commissioner and one of its key figures in contending with coronavirus, Dr. Monica Bharel, has tested positive for the virus and is in quarantine at home. (CommonWealth)

Margaret Monsell says Attorney General Maura Healey’s attacks on Baker’s management of unemployment insurance claims are misplaced. (CommonWealth)

Massachusetts residents give high marks to Baker and Gov. Andrew Cuomo from neighboring New York on their handling of coronavirus in a new Boston Globe/Suffolk University poll. President Trump gets failing grades. (Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse adapts to the curveballs he sees daily during the coronavirus epidemic. First in a series on Massachusetts mayors. (CommonWealth)

The number of coronavirus cases in Revere has surged in a week from eight to 83, and the city urged restaurants to end take-out service. (Boston Herald)

Pittsfield makes the New York Times list for metro areas with the highest rate of deaths related to coronavirus, but the Berkshire Eagle thinks the paper gots its numbers wrong. (Berkshire Eagle)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

After days ago saying he would love to see “packed churches” on Easter, President Trump extended social distancing recommendations through April. (Vox)

Hard-charging New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is the same as he’s always been, but with one big change: People now like him. (Washington Post)

The chair of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe says the Interior Department has taken its land out of trust. (CommonWealth) The Interior Department says it is just complying with a court order (Cape Cod Times)

LIVING WITH CORONAVIRUS

Kim Woo-Ju, a professor of infectious diseases at Korea University College of Medicine, says everyone should be wearing masks when they go out. He says the advice provided by the WHO and US Surgeon General is off-base. In virus notes. (CommonWealth)

Greg Wayland, reading from his mother’s World War II journal, puts our war in perspective. (CommonWealth)

A “cheat sheet” helps Spanish speakers file unemployment insurance claims. (CommonWealth)

The Eagle-Tribune looks back at the 1918 influenza outbreak as it affected the Merrimack Valley.

The state has closed the Worcester medical examiner’s office and made changes to cremation-related regulations. (Telegram & Gazette)

People with developmental disabilities face particular challenges from social isolation. (Telegram & Gazette)

The Patriot Ledger paints a picture of home life during coronavirus.

Co-parenting during the pandemic: advice for divorced parents. (Herald News)

ELECTIONS

Voters say their views of the 2020 presidential election have been reshaped by the pandemic. (The Salem News)

Campaign donations continue to flow, including continued contributions to Mayor Marty Walsh from his pals in the construction industry even after he ordered a shutdown of all construction work in Boston. (Boston Herald)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Recreational marijuana shops want to be deemed “essential” and allowed to stay open. (Telegram & Gazette) Some marijuana companies are laying off staff and are concerned about the future of the industry, while Revolutional Clinics has started manufacturing hand sanitizer to donate to hospitals. (MassLive) A group at the BoroBot makerspace in Middleboro is creating face shields to protect healthcare workers and their face masks as they battle COVID-19. (The Enterprise)

An affordable housing development, Rosewood Estates, would consist of 16 single-family, three-bedroom houses in East Falmouth. (Cape Cod Times)

The maker of Purell is accused of making unsubstantiated health claims. (Mouseprint.orrg)

Religious leaders are among those bracing for a financial hit as donations go down. (Telegram & Gazette)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Massachusetts is now among the top states in terms of coronavirus testing, but it still has a ways to go. In virus notes. (CommonWealth) Boston sets up a testing site for first responders only at Suffolk Downs. (WBUR)

Eight residents of a Danvers nursing home test positive for COVID-19. (The Salem News)

Massachusetts General Hospital is unusually empty these days as it prepares for the surge. (WBUR)

UMass researchers conclude medical-grade masks can be safely sterilized and reused. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Families are unhappy that their loved ones are being moved out of Beaumont Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Center in Worcester to make room for COVID-19 patients. (Telegram & Gazette)

Massachusetts expands what nurse practitioners can do amid the pandemic. (Eagle-Tribune)

ARTS/CULTURE

Balladeer John Prine is on a ventilator and in critical condition with symptoms suggestive of COVID-19. (Rolling Stone)

TRANSPORTATION

All out-of-state passenger vehicles entering Rhode Island at the southern border with Connecticut will be asked to stop at information centers and if they plan to stay for a while must provide contact information and self-quarantine for 14 days. (WGBH)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Arrests are down on the North Shore as more people are staying home. (Gloucester Daily Times)

Advocates for ICE detainees will appear in federal court today asking a judge to order the emergency release of some of those held by Bristol Sheriff Thomas Hodgson because of fears that coronavirus will rampage through the facility. (Boston Herald)

MEDIA

Media analyst Ken Doctor says local news is now more valued than ever, but it may soon be gone as advertising vanishes. (Nieman Journalism Lab)

As coronavirus lays waste to an already decimated newspaper industry, it’s creating more incentive for building out a nonprofit journalism infrastructure, writes New York Times media critic Ben Smith.

Suzanne Nossel and Viktorya Vilk say state and federal governments must support local news. (Slate)

From the Berkshires to the Bayou, from the Pacific Northwest to southeastern Massachusetts, the COVID-19 pandemic is tearing through local newspapers. (Media Nation)