Communities of faith make adjustments in light of coronavirus outbreak

8News Digital Exclusive

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Fear and uncertainty surrounding the novel coronavirus have prompted local communities of faith to make adjustments to ensure the health of congregation members.

8News is chronicling those changes, exclusively online, in this web story.

BLACK COMMUNITY

CHESTERFIELD, VA (WRIC) — At Speaking Spirit Ministries, Pastor Fred Wyatt juggles what changes to make at church, and among members of his congregation.

As faith leaders consider how to respond to the novel coronavirus’ spread, Wyatt maintains a clear message that, “we’re not in fear, we are in faith.”

This past Sunday multiple new measures were put into place, including the propping open of all doors, a temporary stop to passing the offertory plate and a halt to typical hugging.

Wyatt said “we’re not completely sure because of time change, but we saw about a 50 percent decrease in attendance. And, so we’re definitely concerned.”

To figure out how the church moves forward, Wyatt set up a webinar for parishioners.

During the video call, he said he does not “want us to become isolated to the point that we are no longer functioning in our authority as believers.”

As Sunday inches closer, Wyatt said the church is instructing the elderly and people with health issues to stay home.

“If we learn to just be wiser about our everyday interactions with people, I hope that this comes to an end soon.”

JEWISH COMMUNITY

RICHMOND, VA (WRIC) — Inside Temple Beth-El in Richmond, weekend Shabbat services are canceled, along with Sunday School.

“I can’t help but be a Rabbi at this moment and say that Jewish tradition believes, above all else, that we have an obligation to preserve life and ensure individuals and communities’ health and welfare,” Rabbi Michael Knopf told 8News.

While the practicing of faith inside the Synagogue is temporarily on-hold, Knopf says services will be offered online via the video conferencing site Zoom.

“We’re having Friday evening services tonight over Zoom, and we’re having classes in the coming week over Zoom,” Knopf said.

Discussions are ongoing for when the invitation will be sent out to have congregation members return to the Synagogue.

Knopf said “if I were a betting man, I’d say that we are likely to be canceling most of our public gatherings, including services, for the next couple of weeks,” and that the in-person service schedule may coincide with school cancellations.

Governor Ralph Northam declared all K-12 schools will be closed for at least two weeks starting Monday, March 16.

MUSLIM COMMUNITY

CHESTERFIELD, Va (WRIC) — Afternoon prayer has started at the Islamic Center of Virginia in North Chesterfield — a congregation with around 50 people supposed to take a pilgrimage to Mecca over spring break.

Saudi Arabia’s suspension of travel visas in light of the novel coronavirus has put those plans on hold.

Changes within and around this local mosque are taking action, says Imam Ammar Amonette.

“Here in the mosque, of course, people are big on shaking hands and hugging, and their close physical contact. Plus, they pray kneeling on the floor. So, we have to tell people not to come when they have maybe a contagious disease or have symptoms,” Imam Amonette said.

Those entering the mosque are running into a new addition — a hand sanitizer dispenser next to where congregants remove their shoes before praying inside.

Amonette also said those maintaining the mosque are re-addressing what kind of cleaning materials to use for the carpet where physical contact is prevalent.

Dr. Naim Bashir, on-site to pray, says the hand sanitizer is a positive for faithful arrivals.

“Most people who come in will perform what we can an ablution, where they wash their hands and their face–certainly for a fair amount of time to cleanse themselves. But for those that come in and are not or have already performed their ablution at home, they can sanitize their hands,” Bashir said.

While no one has been told to say home yet, Imam Amonette says he prioritizes sharing accurate information.

“We do not want people to panic and listen to rumor, but we do want factual information so that we can make informed decisions. And I feel like that we are getting mixed messages from government, and I think it would be ideal if we could get very clear directives.”

Imam Ammar Amonette, The Islamic Center of Virginia

CATHOLIC COMMUNITY

The Catholic Diocese of Richmond issued a statement Wednesday afternoon about changing practices in the face of the coronavirus outbreak.

Bishop Barry C. Knestout has instructed the following liturgical guidelines to take effect immediately:

  • Stop serving wine at communion
  • Refraining from shaking hands during the Sign of Peace — instead, bow or use verbal gestures.
  • Not to hold hands during the Lord’s Prayer
  • Removing holy water from bastimals and holy water fonts.

The guidelines were sent to all clergy, parishes, and schools within its diocese.

“We pray for all who are sick and the healthcare professionals caring for those affected,” the release said.

This story will be updated with more local communities of faith making changes amid coronavirus concerns.

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