Coronavirus pandemic forces churches, synagogues to shift services online

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RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) This is an important week for Jews and Christians; Passover begins Wednesday and Easter is this Sunday. But churches and synagogues have been ordered to close their doors. Our Olivia Lyons shows you how religious celebrations will continue this week and into the weekend.

Even though the doors to the physical churches are locked, that doesn't mean the ministries are stopping. They're still holding their Easter celebrations.

"We've managed to keep the community connected, which I think is really important," said Alastair Stout, the minister of music at the Grace Congregational Church in Rutland.

Stout has been creating videos from past services and members' videos of their Bible lessons, children's sermons, poetry and prayers.

"Especially elderly people and people that can't get out too often. I think it's a wonderful way to not only show them what's going on at Grace but also to use them in the services because they can record material at home and email it in to me and I can use it in the video," Stout said.

He filmed a Tenebrae service in his basement using candles to represent the light going into darkness.

The congregation is also hosting a guided communion.

"It's not what I want, obviously. You'd rather have them all sitting in front of you, that's where they belong and that day will come, but for now, it's what we can do," said Father Bernie Bourgeois of Christ the King, Immaculate Heart of Mary and St. Patrick's.

Bourgeois says reaching some of the elderly members has been a challenge, but he uses a phone service similar to what most schools subscribe to.

"That reaches a lot of people, so I am able to make the phone call and I do that regularly and I send emails regularly and most people, I think, are finding ways to connect," Bourgeois said.

About 900 people watched this past Sunday's livestream. Being video and social media-based provides flexibility for worshippers to watch at a time best for them. It also creates a larger community of people tuning into services across the country.

Sean Garren of Boston says this weekend he might watch the same service as family in Minnesota.

"In some ways, it will make it nice for family. We'll probably connect with more family than we normally would since all of us would be doing our own plans across the country instead of sharing this together," Garren said.

"This Easter we will be staying at home like everybody else and we'll be watching a service on TV," said Jennifer Griffiths who just moved to Vermont from Nevada.

"My equipment is basically a cellphone and that's what I'm using. And we're making it work, and it's working! Thank God for Facebook! I never thought I would say that in my life, I've got to tell you. There it is," Bourgeois said with a laugh. "And thank God for YouTube, as well."

Many people we spoke with who said they usually go to church, said they will join an online service this Sunday.