Houses of worship across the city make adjustments to curb the spread of coronavirus

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Photo via Facebook/The Greek Orthodox Shrine Church of St. Nicholas

As small businesses and nonprofit organizations throughout the city suffer economic harm from the coronavirus pandemic, religious institutions are also enduring the same fate ahead of the upcoming holy season of Easter, Passover and Ramadan.

Due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis, the head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens on March 16 waived Sunday Mass attendance obligations for Catholics in both boroughs until further notice. 

Following Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s ban on gatherings of more than 500 people, which includes houses of worship, the faith community has made some adjustments, such as streaming their weekend services on the internet. 

Paul Palesty, pastor of the Greek Orthodox Shrine Church of St. Nicholas, located at 196-10 Northern Blvd. in Flushing, said their congregants have been viewing a livestream of their scheduled services on Facebook.

“Our concern would be that everyone is safe and our seniors especially because they’re the most vulnerable,” Palesty said. “This COVID-19 is a dreadful thing, but at the same time it’s bringing blessings too — families are able to stay home together, rediscovering each other, parents are with their children. There are positive things that are coming from this and am praying that everyone is safe and free of this disease.”

St. Nicholas has closed its parochial school that has about 600 enrolled students, Palesty said. Additionally, meetings at the church have been suspended and its athletic programs until further notice. 

As for their Easter schedule on April 19, which is celebrated one week after the western Easter, Palesty said they’re unsure about the upcoming Holy Week and Easter services. 

“We’re very saddened by these things and it presents a great financial challenge to the parish too,” Palesty said. “Our festival is our number one fundraiser for our parish programs and ministries, and if we’re not going to have these services, we’re not going to raise these monies — just like restaurants, many people are suffering economically and so is the church.”

Brett Younger, senior minister of Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights, shared Palesty’s sentiments. 

“It’s going to continue to be difficult because some churches are hanging on,” Younger said. “My church is not threatened to the level like some are — they’re hanging on by the thread and will be forced to make choices about what to keep and what not too. It seems pretty likely that some small churches with a limited budget may be the end for some.”

The Plymouth Church school has been suspended and group gatherings, such as Bible study, have been canceled until further notice. 

According to Younger, it’s a painful but interesting time for churches since they’re being forced to innovate, even for those who have resisted innovation. 

“I think that in some ways, churches have been behind on technology and this will push them to catch up, and this will be a small gift from a terrible time,” Younger said. “We’re doing online worship, and we have a tiny group of people worshipping in the sanctuary and other groups of people gathered around their laptops.”

For Younger, the coronavirus pandemic is a time to be still and grateful finding ways to help those that are in need. 

“There will come a time where we’re past this and become more of the people we need to be through this terrible painful opportunity to get better,” Younger said. “There’s going to be a bunch of things taken from us that we’re going to be grateful for, such as getting a hug from friends, having dinner at a restaurant, walking to school, a shelf filled with toilet paper or worshipping at a congregation that you love.”

Meanwhile, the Muslim Community Center in Manhattan has canceled its Ramadan program in April. It’s a special time during the month for Muslims as they gather in large groups for prayers and dinner, after fasting throughout the day. 

“Our center has iftar (dinner) every single night in Ramadan, the nightly prayers every single night, and we always invite a scholar from out of state to be with us during this special month for spiritual support and knowledge,” the center told QNS. “As of now, everything has been erased and refunded.”

According to the center, it has been a complete devastation to the Muslim community where they all gather under one roof once a year for the purpose of a spiritual connection with the lord. 

“As of today, we are hoping that remaining at home can fill the void we are experiencing being away from the House of God. We truly have to turn our homes into a makeshift mosque with our family members, so maybe there’s a reason this is happening after all,” the center said.

The center has suspended all future activities and prayers until further notice.