WESTERLY — Priests, ministers and other faith leaders came together Tuesday at Central Baptist Church for an interdenominational prayer service focused on unity, hope and service in the days of COVID-19.
Organized by Rev. Cal Lord, pastor of Central Baptist Church, the event was broadcast via Facebook Live on pages managed by some of the participants. Lord said he was moved to organize the event after observing the efforts of local faith leaders to connect with their congregants and parishioners in a time when normal religious services have been canceled as a means to slow the potential spread of the virus.
"Hearing them share encouragement in the faith just struck me and I said 'you know it would be wonderful if the clergy in the community could come together and show our unity in this faith we have in God and send that message to the people that we may be separate in buildings but we are one in God,'" Lord said.
The Rev. Sunil Chandy, rector of Christ Church Episcopal, said he was eager for the public health crisis to end.
"I long to shake my colleagues' hands, but I can't because we're told to be physically distant from one another. I don't like the term social distance because we're socially connected now in better ways than we were before, I think, but we're physically distant. We have to maintain that physical separation but I long for the day and that will be a great Easter celebration for our community. I long for the day when we have filled churches again and we can hear choir members sing and children go to Sunday school. I long for that day," Chandy said.
With schools and many businesses closed or requiring telecommuting, families, thrust together in sudden and unusual ways, are strained, Chandy said. "Watch what you say. Be gentle in your speech, be kind to your loved ones and you'll find peace in your home," he said.
The societal changes and disruptions wrought by social distancing are causing some to feel isolated and lonely, said Rev. Thomas Hoar.
"Reach out, pick up the phone, send a text, send an e-mail and tell people you are thinking of them and that you care," said Hoar, who is president of St. Edmund’s Retreat at Enders Island, an addiction recovery program.
Hoar, who is also chaplain of the Stonington Police Department, asked those watching to pray for the region's police officers and other first responders as well as grocery store staff who continue working despite the risk of contracting the virus.
The current crisis will pass just as blizzards, hurricanes and other severe weather, said Bishop Richard Douglas Morton Jr. of Family Christian Center Church of God in Pawcatuck. "I just want to encourage you in faith this morning that whatever it is you are going through, whatever it is our community is going through and whatever it is our world is going through, it is only temporary.
"You can look at it as if it were a storm. No storm lasts forever. Every single storm that we go through has a beginning and has an ending," Morton said.
The virus could, ultimately, bring about positive change, said Rev. Giacomo Capoverdi.
"We'll be more unified. I believe that this will be an awakening for Christianity and for parishes and churches and for people who have been a little lax in practicing their faith ... now we really have a lot of time to focus on what's important — God and family," said Capoverdi, pastor of the Immaculate Conception Church in Westerly.
The Immaculate Conception food pantry is open and available. Those in need should call 401-450-9749.
Father Michael Najim, pastor of St. Pius X Church, encouraged believers to use these days as an opportunity to deepen faith and trust, and he reminded viewers of a consistent theme in the Bible.
"The message we hear so often in scripture is do not be afraid. That is such a constant call to us," Najim said.
Volunteers from Najim's church are ready to conduct shopping runs for senior citizens and others who are not able or comfortable leaving their homes, he said.
Each of the clergy participants described their efforts to conduct services and provide spiritual connection through Facebook and other electronic means. While parishioners cannot currently attend Mass, both Capoverdi and Najim said they are continuing to offer the Sacrament of Reconciliation (confession) at their respective churches.
Lord also shared the efforts of other faith communities, both Christian and non-Christian, including Congregation Sharah Zedek on Union Street in Westerly, Dunn's Corners Community Church, United Congregational Church of Westerly United Church of Christ in Pawcatuck; and Westerly Friends Meeting, the Unitarian church on Elm Street.