Covid-19 and faith: a year on
This week marks one year since the first two cases of Covid-19 were reported in Bermuda.
The announcement on March 18 was followed by a whirlwind of changes in the community; for religious organisations it forced a remodelling of the way congregations worshipped collectively.
“The immediate effects of the pandemic threw everyone, the whole country, into crisis mode. There was much uncertainty,” said the Right Reverend Nicholas Dill, the Anglican Bishop of Bermuda.
“But with that uncertainty came a lot of creativity. We adapted overnight to offer services virtually, to change the way we conducted pastoral care and to make sure the most vulnerable in the community were protected with food and financial security.”
The Anglican Church of Bermuda operates churches in all nine of the island’s parishes. When David Burt, the Premier, announced that residents would have to shelter in place from April 4, the churches were forced to close their doors.
“While it has been a long and very challenging year, it forced us to adapt, which has not been a bad thing,” said Bishop Dill. “We have advanced our technological capabilities to offer services online.
“There is no doubt that putting together worship in this way is considerably more work. But we feel that it is worth it. We are engaging a new demographic, many of which are international. We have viewers from all over the world now. It’s been interesting to expand.”
In some instances this transition took church leaders and members outside of their comfort zones however Bishop Dill believes that people came together to assist each other through.
“There was a lot of learning that had to happen for our members. We developed virtual choirs, so members had to record themselves at home to a soundtrack. We also had our readers pre-record scriptures. It was a learning curve, but the take-up was swift.
“It’s been an ongoing development. Learning how to do things in a more professional way and make things readily accessible. As an organisation we started to utilise social media more, making use of our Facebook page to stay connected and creating a YouTube page to stream our services.”
Although all Anglican churches across the island have now reopened, virtual services remain an option for those who are not yet comfortable attending in person.
“I think there will be an ongoing virtual presence of worship from the Anglican Church of Bermuda going forward,” Bishop Dill said. “We are exploring with the Cathedral how to do this in a sustainable way.
“I think the community have really benefited from it. So much so that some people prefer to stay at home and listen and engage in the comfort of their own home. But there is no substitute for having that physical sense of community.”
He continued: “Our doors physically reopened for worship in the summer and our numbers have stayed relatively small. We have been adhering very closely to government protocols. Initially we thought it would be a massive undertaking to reopen our buildings. It was overwhelming to manage the sanitising, mask wearing, social distancing and contact tracing. But these safety precautions have become a standard practice now.”
Navigating special and sombre occasions have also presented challenges for the church, with restrictions on gatherings derailing many plans.
“Weddings, baptisms and funerals are all still a part of our ministry and they have continued, albeit on a much smaller scale.
“I would advise people to have realistic expectations. Embrace what is. In many cases you will discover that smaller is better. It is more intimate and less stressful. My experience with weddings, baptisms and funerals is that people have appreciated the ability to just be together to celebrate or grieve as a family.”
One year into our ‘new normal’ many are experiencing pandemic fatigue. Bishop Dill believes the best way to survive these times is by focusing on the “heart of worship”.
“We all miss the opportunity to touch and be physically present in worship. We may have taken that for granted before all of this. But the really important thing to remember is that none of this can change who we worship, why we worship or the joy with which we worship. Nothing has changed in that regard.”