Though the front doors were open at Our Lady of Pompeii Church in Dobbs Ferry, the sanctuary was empty last Sunday, March 15.
On a lectern were two pieces of paper. One was a “Prayer to the Virgin Mary for Protection.” The other stated that the Archdiocese of New York had canceled all masses until further notice to help contain the coronavirus pandemic.
“Church is open for you to offer a brief prayer if you wish,” the notice stated. “Please DO NOT congregate or spend lengthy times in conversation. Please join in praying the prayer provided as we ask God to bring us through this challenging time.”
In Hastings, the doors to First Reformed Church were locked. Inside the chapel, however, the Rev. Emily Brown was dressed for worship in a black robe and a purple stole. The Chinese Community Church of Westchester, which rents the chapel, had suspended services due to the coronavirus.
As 10 a.m. approached, the 34-year-old Brown placed her laptop computer on a lectern in the center aisle and logged into Zoom, a video conferencing service. She was joined by 32 guests, including eight children and her parents, who were in her hometown of Worcester, Mass.
Zoom allowed them to see and talk with each other through their computers’ built-in cameras, microphones, and speakers.
For the next hour, Brown led a virtual service that included scripture and song. For the children, she read one of her 4-year-old daughter’s favorite books, “In My Heart: A Book of Feelings” by Jo Witek. Brown also has a 6-year-old son.
The Rev. Drew Paton hosted a similar service at South Presbyterian Church in Dobbs Ferry that morning. So did the Rev. Gareth Evans at the Church of St. Barnabas in Irvington and the Rev. Lauren Kuratko at Grace Episcopal Church in Hastings. That evening Rabbi Benjy Silverman hosted a discussion from Chabad of the Rivertowns in Dobbs Ferry. On March 13, Rabbi Billy Dreskin led an online service at Woodlands Community Temple.
Last month, Covid-19 was a far away problem. Now it’s pushing us farther apart. “Social distancing” is the norm. “Shelter in place” is looming. Nevertheless, distances of six feet or more can’t keep us apart, as six religious leaders proved last weekend.