Members of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Oak Park might be wondering, “What else could go wrong?”

Their pastor was hit by lightning on a CROP Walk a few years ago. Their church building was made uninhabitable by a fire in 2018, and now COVID-19 has forced them to suspend worship services at least through the end of March. 

The congregation, which hopes to move back into their building on East Avenue soon, joins most other faith communities in Oak Park in suspending in-person worship services for at least two weeks in an attempt to “flatten the curve” of the spread of the coronavirus. On Friday, Cardinal Cupich cancelled all Masses in the Archdiocese of Chicago which includes four parishes in Oak Park and two in River Forest.

Like many congregations in the area, Good Shepherd is going to do worship online. Members were advised, “We will Facebook Live March 15 worship and are working at using the Zoom platform to have a virtual worshipping community. Check out our Facebook page.”

St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church posted, “On Sunday, we will livestream a prayer service from the chapel through Facebook Live. Click here for our Facebook page (not our Facebook group) at 10:30 and tune in. We will also broadcast this service through a conference call for those who do not use Facebook.”

Our Lady Immaculate, a conservative, unofficial Catholic Church which holds Mass in Latin, let their members know that, “Mass will be available to you each day via livestream and other media channels. You can find these on our website”

Most clergy, in addition to announcing the suspension of worship services, tried to frame the situation in terms of faith. 

Rabbi Max Weiss, for example, posted on the Oak Park Temple website, “For many of us, the synagogue community is a central part of our lives, and in this time of uncertainty, without the anchor of our Jewish community, many of us may feel adrift. Please know that should you need anything, even to talk, you can reach out to us by email: Rabbi Weiss, Rabbi Kirzane, or Cantor Green. Even as we practice ‘social distancing,’ there are many opportunities to remain connected. For instance, starting with this evening’s Shabbat service, OPT will use the Zoom platform to enable our community to gather from home.”

Pastor Jeff at Boulevard Presbyterian Church posted, “We are taking these measures not out of fear but to care for the most vulnerable in our congregation and communities and also to do our part to try to flatten the curve. Especially at times like this, we need to remind one another and our neighbors that ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.’ (Psalm 46)”

Many congregations cited statements by Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the CDC in explaining why they were suspending live worship services. Pastor Gerald at Calvary Memorial, for example, explained, “In light of the present status of the coronavirus (COVID-19) and the recommendations made by Gov. Pritzker, Calvary will not hold services at the church facility this Sunday, and instead will host our worship service online at 10:45 a.m.”

Rev. Alan Taylor at Unity Temple put it this way: “The leadership of the Unitarian Universalist Association, congregational leadership in areas currently more directed and affected by the virus, and many other voices have led us to believe that this is a decision that is safest for all individuals and for our community at large. We have a moral obligation to help to slow down and prevent the spread of COVID-19 as much as we possibly can.”

They, too, conducted last Sunday’s service online.

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Tom Holmes

Tom's been writing about religion – broadly defined – for years in the Journal. Tom's experience as a retired minister and his curiosity about matters of faith will make for an always insightful exploration...