How Families Are Connect with God During the Pandemic

Lindsay and Robert Jacobs, and Avery, their daughter, watching a virtual Shabbat service hosted by Shira Averbuch. 
Source: Andrew White for The New York Times

Faith communities have been doubly impacted by COVID-19. Unable to gather and unable to participate in corporate religious services at a time of national upheaval have affected many of these groups members, especially parents.

As cases of the novel coronavirus continue to grow in the United States, parents are finding innovative ways to express their faith and share it with their children.

Parents, traditionally accustomed to religious educators and other volunteers to create engaging ways for youth to express their faiths, now find themselves in an unfamiliar role trying to practice, teach, engage, parent, and instruct. How does a parent teach a child to “love thy neighbor as thyself” at a time of declining neighbor interactions due to social distancing guidelines?

In the Jacobs’ home, instead of Shabbat with family and friends at their local synagogue, it’s Facebook Live and listening to the music of Shira Averbuch. In the Jewish tradition Shabbat – the seventh day of week – serves as a time of relaxation and worship.  The Jacobs’ three year child, Avery sings along. Though different, Avery’s mother Lindsay Jacobs said, “Seeing Shira’s face has been the one of comfort we’ve had through this whole thing.”

Nico Barreto, center, and his sister, Elena, praying with their family.
 Source: Hannah Yoon for The New York Times

Similarly, Christian and Muslim parents have had to be equally creative.

Rice University administrator Carrie Willard, 42, says she and her two sons, 12 and 9, engage in what they call the “big C challenge” which is intended to help the boys see God in others instead of judging them. Commenting on her experiences since the outbreak of the pandemic, Willard stated what she misses the most about the loss of in-person religious gathering is the holidays.

Easter was this weird but not terrible,” she said.  Their local Episcopal congregation in Houston, TX was closed. Instead, her husband, the parish rector for Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church, read a sermon while the family sat around the fire.

Harvard epidemiologist and co-director of the Initiative on Health, Religion and Spirituality, Tyler J. VanderWeele, Ph.D. stated, “Nothing can fully take the place of the communal face-to-face gatherings of religious communities.” Dr. VanderWeele and his colleagues found in their 2018 study that among adolescents attending a weekly religious service contributed to lower possibilities of drug use, increased frequency of volunteering, fewer lifetime sexual partners, and greater overall life satisfaction rates.

Additionally, a 2017 Pew Research Center survey found that among U.S. adults surveyed who attended a church service at least once a month, two-thirds said they did so to give their children a moral foundation.

The Barreto family, from left, Holley, Elena, Eric and Nico.
Source: Hannah Yoon for The New York Times

Asma Uddin, 40, an author and lawyer, described how celebrating Eid and attending Muslim summer camps her “a sense that there are people like us.” Uddin, also commented on her Ramadan experience this spring in the midst of the pandemic stating she found it “spiritually uplifting.”  However, she expressed concerns that the longer there are no in-person services the greater concern she has that her children might not understand the importance of religious community and the identity as Muslims.

With the pandemic now stretching into the 7th month, religious people wait with anticipation for the day they’ll be able to return to their houses of worship without fear of community spread.

Source: The New York Times