Today is Good Friday, the day Christians commemorate Jesus’ crucifixion. For Jews, Wednesday night marked the beginning of Passover, the spring holiday celebrating the liberation of the Israelites from Egypt. Normally both sets of holidays are packed with family, friends, food, and celebration—yet this year, as the US and the world weather the Covid-19 crisis, leaders in both faiths have been forced to reimagine what’s possible when churches, synagogues, and houses of worship are closed and group gatherings discouraged or prohibited to slow the spread of the disease.
WIRED spoke with nearly a dozen Christian and Jewish faith leaders from across the country to hear how the pandemic is reshaping their religious experience and challenging and strengthening their own beliefs. The following oral history, the fourth in our ongoing weekly series, Covid Spring, has been compiled from those original interviews, as well as from social media posts, to capture the transformation of religion in the time of the coronavirus.
Editor’s note: If you’d like to read previous installments of this series, Chapter 1 of Covid Spring dealt with patients and those on the front lines of the response across the country. Chapter 2 featured the voices of eight Americans who have watched what would normally be some of the biggest and most quintessentially human moments in their lives—births, weddings, loved ones’ deaths—remade and altered forever by the virus’s shadow. Last week’s Chapter 3 featured the voices of New Yorkers at the center of America’s Covid-19 epidemic. Quotes have been edited and condensed for clarity.
I. Faith and Hope
The Rev. Veronika Travis, associate rector, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Alexandria, Virginia: We could see the virus looming. I made the decision to not serve the cup anymore at communion—a choice some of the members thought I didn’t have the authority to make. That led to some conversation. Some people who were in more science-oriented jobs, they knew the coronavirus was going to be a big deal, but the average people in the church, they thought it was a bad flu. They were saying, “We need to act like we’re in flu season. Maybe don’t hug anymore,” stuff like that. The vestry—the board of the church—we talked, and I talked about how I was only going to serve the bread. That was the most sanitary way of giving communion.
Then we knew life was going to change on March 11th—that’s when the bishop of Virginia said we’re not letting you have in-person worship until March 25th, and then it just kept going from there with longer and longer restrictions from the bishop. Because we have a hierarchal church, I had an easier time than most because I was told what to do. We didn’t have to discuss it.