How suburban faithful will observe a virtual Easter, Passover, Ramadan
In nearly 25 years, Krys Tischer rarely missed daily communion services or Sunday Mass at Our Lady of the Wayside Catholic Church in Arlington Heights.
Now, she's on COVID-19 lockdown along with the rest of Illinoisans as Holy Week begins, and she has the additional burden of undergoing chemotherapy. She is learning to observe Lenten traditions and Mass within the sanctity of her home.
That's a prospect facing tens of thousands of Christians at the holiest time of the year, and they are not alone. A convergence of religious observances for Easter, Passover and Ramadan this month will occur amid a statewide ban on gatherings of more than 10 people forcing churches, synagogues and mosques to close.
Social distancing due to the coronavirus pandemic means worshippers must adjust to virtual Masses, services livestreamed via Facebook and YouTube, and congregational gatherings facilitated by Zoom videoconferencing.
"It's going to be very difficult," says Tischer, 69, of Arlington Heights, as she reflects on the advent of Palm Sunday today leading to Easter Sunday in a week.
She also is separated from her only immediate family member who lives nearby.
"My son works at a grocery store. Because of my immune system, I have to keep away," she says. "We haven't been able to get together because he might be exposed to the virus."
That also means letting go of participating in traditions such as Stations of the Cross -- a 14-step Catholic devotion commemorating Jesus Christ's last day -- and Easter basket blessings, she says.
"It has given me more time to focus on prayer and my spirituality," Tischer said.
Preaching to empty pews
Prepping for yet another virtual service, Jeff Frazier tries to imagine the faces of congregants who normally would occupy the now vacant pews of Chapelstreet Church, which has three campuses in Geneva and Batavia.
"It feels very strange to preach to an empty room," said Frazier, lead pastor of the Protestant church.
Roughly 2,200 worshippers typically would gather for four communion services during Holy Week. The centerpiece of these services is the communion table with people kneeling on all four sides.
"It's one of my favorite services of the year," Frazier said. "None of that will be possible this year."
This year, the church will be livestreaming services instead with Frazier, a few band members and a skeleton technical crew. Members will be instructed on taking communion at home.
Frazier believes this forced seclusion has a more solemn purpose.
"We believe every house should be a chapel on its street," he said. "The church is not the building. ... You are the church in your home. We believe it's the spiritual remembrance of Christ's sacrifice that matters."
At Second Baptist Church of Elgin, Pastor Nathaniel Edmond was delivering his first livestreamed service on Palm Sunday through the church's website and Facebook Live in the leadup to Easter Sunday.
"It is our biggest celebration of the year, and to not be able to gather traditionally ... we are trying to do as best we can," Edmond said.
For the past four weeks, Edmond has been recording and posting weekly messages and services on YouTube in anticipation of the live debut.
"The church is within us," Edmond said. "We are called by Christ to be Christ-like. The purpose of gathering at the church house on Sunday is really to draw strength and be encouraged by one another to keep doing those things. Now, we have to really draw on our own inner strength ... on our relationship with Christ."
In Jewish tradition, Passover primarily is a home-based celebration. The weeklong observance begins Wednesday evening, April 8, and ends April 16.
A central part of the festival involves the ritual Seder meal celebrated with extended family, friends and neighbors, and cleansing the home through the changing of dishes, food and removal of all leavened products.
"Many of my congregants would invite 15 to 20 people for seders," said Rabbi Marc Rudolph of Congregation Beth Shalom in Naperville. "This is probably the first time in world history where Jews around the world are told not to get together because of this epidemic. It's a big change for me, personally."
Rudolph will be hosting virtual services and Seder this year through Zoom meetings for his congregation, with only his wife and son by his side.
"We are doing this in order to cut down on the sense of isolation and sadness that people are going to feel," he said. "It feels that the community has been brought closer by this crisis even as we have been forced to be apart."
Time for introspection
For Muslims, Ramadan traditionally is a time for self-refection and purification.
During the monthlong observance, beginning the evening of April 23, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking and sensual pleasures from dawn until dusk while engaging in prayer, charity and self-improvement.
Nightly congregational worship, known as taraweeh, and communal iftars or fast-breaking meals are customary practices, said Baseer Qazi, of Oak Brook.
"We are going to be missing out on that," said Qazi, whose family attends Islamic Foundation of Villa Park. "This will be a very different Ramadan."
While mosques explore livestreaming sermons, Qazi plans to have congregational prayers and iftars at home with his wife and four children. He also hopes to shift the family's focus more toward introspection, learning patience, and community service.