Jack Carter

Staff Writer

Taylor Alphonso

Staff Writer

In difficult times, many people turn to religion as a source of comfort.  But what happens when that community is forced to disband, even just physically?  The novel coronavirus epidemic has caused many churches, temples, synagogues, and other buildings of worship to shut their physical doors.  But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t still worshipping.  

Certain aspects of religion that are effective face-to-face simply can’t be replicated to the same degree at home.  For instance, communion, the consumption of bread and wine symbolic of Jesus’ Last Supper, has changed drastically.  The sacrament of communion, usually blessed by the leader of a Christain congregation and distributed to participants in the sanctuary, has either become a form of do-it-yourself celebration with whatever you can find in your house or disappeared from churches entirely. While the message is still the same, the connection that blessed communion forms between the participant and God or is altered drastically when it isn’t properly blessed and distributed. 

The Princeton Alliance Church (Source: MapQuest)

However, Communion is not the only aspect of religion that has changed at the hands of the pandemic. Music is one of the most prominent forms of worship, allowing those who attend religious services to express themselves in creative and artistic ways. Unfortunately, the music in services has changed significantly. Large choirs have had to move to a virtual setting, still producing music, but losing a critical relationship with the congregation. Worship bands now perform to empty halls and Zoom screens.  Live singing is minimal and strictly solo.  The relationship between music artists and a congregation is powerful — the energy of the observers fuel the artists music, voices, and motivation. However, with this connection lost, some of the most powerful moments of a service for the players and observers alike have disappeared.  

Separate from communion and worship, a powerful part of in-person religious congregations is the socialization between the attendees. Saying hello to your friends and family before the service begins, shaking hands with the new and old faces in the pews next to you, or even the after-service small talk over a cup of coffee provided a sense of connection and familial unity for religious members of all ages. A simple, yet powerful, space for socialization has suddenly been replaced. What used to be hugs, smiles, and waves are now messages in a Zoom call chat. What used to be singing and praying surrounded by your friends and family is now a lonely recitation from behind a screen. What used to be an outlet for building relationships and creating new friendships is now an all-virtual or hybrid service, devoid of opportunities for love and unification.

Despite these challenges, however, not all hope is lost. While COVID has certainly taken from our experiences, it has simultaneously enhanced them in ways we wouldn’t have imagined a year ago.  Distant family and former members of the congregation have a new way to interact with old friends and their loved ones from afar, getting to see a service they wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to partake in. Princeton Alliance Church in Plainsboro used to have an average of 3,000 attendees every Sunday. Now, with easier access to service live streams, the Church hosts congregations averaging over 10,000 viewers from across the world, representing areas in South Asia, Europe, America, Canada and South America.

Individuals who may have never even considered going into a church may enjoy the anonymity that comes with tuning in to a church service over their phone. Even with these new changes, a sense of normalcy is still maintained. While they take time to produce, musical pieces continue, and can now feature even more people. Guest speakers and preachers find it much easier to log onto Zoom from home rather than flying halfway across the country for a service, giving communities access to perspectives they wouldn’t otherwise have heard from.  

Ultimately, nobody can argue that religion has gone on unchanged through the coronavirus epidemic. Still, we’ve found our community taking this adversity in their stride and turning a difficult situation into a way to spread their love for faith and togetherness even further.

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