Religious leaders discuss faith in time of coronavirus

“Congregants” in the pews of Lansing United Methodist Church attend the church’s online service. Seven of the town’s churches have moved some or all of their services online in response to the coronavirus.
“Congregants” in the pews of Lansing United Methodist Church attend the church’s online service. Seven of the town’s churches have moved some or all of their services online in response to the coronavirus.
Photo by Diane Withiam
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The coronavirus has closed Lansing’s churches and temples, but the communities they represent continue to congregate and worship at home and online. Tompkins Weekly reached out to the leaders of these faith communities for their guidance on living in these difficult times.

Pastor Glenn Hulburt of the East Shore Christian Fellowship turned to David’s 39th Psalm for guidance: “O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!”

“Normally, we go through life with the thoughts about our own human mortality sort of stewing on the back burner of our mind,” Hulburt said. “But there are, from time to time, disasters and diseases that come along and drag those thoughts about the brevity of life to the front burners. Suddenly, the value of human life becomes a lot more precious to us, and it is that thought that causes us to act differently.”

Hulburt said this can sometimes lead people to act selfishly.

“We make sure that we get all we can, can what we get and sit on the lid (or sell it),” he said. “However, there are times when it causes us to become selfless. Instead of saying ‘Your life for mine,’ we begin to say ‘My life for yours.’ That is when we most embody the Gospel of Christ. In the darkness of this pandemic, may the beauty of the gospel shine through us.”

Father Joel Brady of Holy Apostles Orthodox Church said that he sees this as a “time to develop a deeper life of prayer at home.”

“Our Orthodox Tradition places a great deal of emphasis on corporate worship, and so it’s naturally very painful for us to be separated from that,” he said. “But we also have a profound tradition of inner life and inner prayer, which is perhaps prone to getting forgotten amidst the bustle of life.”

Brady said he and others are trying to take this situation and make the most of it.

“Between the void left by separation from communal worship and the additional quiet time at home for many of us, it’s a golden opportunity to explore this great richness of life with God in our own hearts,” he said. “By His grace, this may enable us to experience corporate worship in a new depth when we are able to return to it.”

Father Daniel Ruiz, of All Saints Roman Catholic Church, offered three messages: “Be not afraid,” “My peace I give you” and “I will be with you always.”

“It is our duty as Christians who love their neighbor and have a preferential love for the poor, the weak and the vulnerable to stay home and do all we can to protect ourselves and others,” Ruiz said.

Ruiz quoted Saint John Paul II in saying, “A society will be judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members.”

“We should remember that in all things God is working out our salvation and ask ourselves: What can I learn from the experience of these weeks that will help me be more authentically human?” he said. “God has not abandoned us; God is loving us, holding us and continuing God’s ongoing work of creation through all this.”

Ruiz encouraged others to allow this situation to change the way they approach life.

“May we never go back to what we used to call ‘normal’ but instead may from this experience of Calvary, crucifixion and death truly come new life and resurrection with a renewed approach to what matters and a world that looks more like God’s Kingdom,” he said.

Rabbi Brian Walt of the Tikkun v’Or Reform Temple noted that “Jews are going to sit down and do Passover in a different way this year.”

“We usually invite lots of guests, but to follow the Jewish commandment to preserve life, even on the holiest days, we just need to do it small and within our own family,” he said. “Passover has the story of the plagues, and Rabbis teach that the ninth plague, of darkness, was not just the opposite of light but also not seeing the faces of our brothers and sisters, and that this led to the ultimate plague, the killing of the first born.”

Walt said this pandemic shows that we are all intricately related.

“There is no use in making distinctions between Jews and Christians, Americans and Chinese – we are all in the same boat and will survive or sink together,” he said. “We need to pay attention, to see the faces of our brothers and sisters and to develop great compassion for them.”

Walt added that Passover is about justice and about paying attention to the most vulnerable.

“Those who have lost jobs without sick pay, to the small business owners who are threatened with the end of business that provided employment to people, the millions of people in the country who fear becoming sick because they have no health insurance and who go to work sick - that’s where our attention should go,” he said.

And Pastor Alison Schmied of Lansing United Methodist Church noted that her congregation is spending the 40 days of Lent reading their way through the 40 chapters of the Book of Exodus.

“Exodus reminds us that once we were slaves, now God has freed us and blessed us to bless all the families of the earth,” Schmied wrote. “Re-reading Exodus during the COVID-19 pandemic, we understand more personally the threat of plagues and the Hebrew’s grumbling about missing the familiar comforts of home on their 40-year journey through the wilderness.”

Schmied said that God works through people.

“In Exodus, the Hebrews participate in their own deliverance by packing up and walking into the unknown of the desert for 40 years,” she said. “This pandemic won’t last 40 years, but we too participate in delivering our health system from an unmanageable surge of infections every day that we move further into the unfamiliar desert of social distancing and staying home.”
Schmied, like others, shared a feeling of togetherness and the need for cooperation.

“As a community of faith, we recognize in the midst of what feels like hardship that we have been blessed by God and that God specifically blesses each of us with the capacity to be a blessing to others,” she said.

She explained the changes her congregation has had to make because of COVID-19 concerns.

“Lansing UMC is staying home but staying in contact with our community by phone, email, Zoom and Facebook,” she said. “Our children are reaching out to bring a daily dose of encouragement to any who need it through Facebook and making smile-gram messages to encourage people receiving food through meals on wheels.”

In addition, she said, adults are packing individual meals to take to those served by St. John’s mission, Second Wind Cottages, and Loaves and Fishes.

Others are helping sew masks for medical care workers. The church is live-streaming worship services on our website (www.lansingunited.org) at 9:30 a.m. Sundays.

“We’re journeying through this wilderness together, confident that God is with us every step of the way,” she said.

In Brief:

Lansing Food Pantry

The Lansing Food Pantry is considered an essential business and will continue to distribute food as a drive-thru only.

The Food Bank of the Southern Tier has suspended all Mobile Truck pantries, which were normally on the second Monday of each month. As a result, the Pantry will take over distribution on that day in place of the Mobile.

This will be referred to as a Special Pantry. There will be a Special Pantry the second Monday of the month from 10 a.m. to noon as a drive-thru. Residence restrictions for this Special Pantry have been lifted. The next Special Pantry is Monday, April 13 from 10 a.m. to noon.

The regular pantry will continue on the fourth Monday of the month from 1 to 3 p.m. as a drive-thru. This pantry is for Lansing residents only. The next regular pantry is Monday, April 27.

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