SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA)– Religious leaders are having to lead other believers in a way they never have before thanks to COVID-19, the novel coronavirus.
Even before Governor Pritzker issued a stay-at-home order, large gatherings of people started being restricted in Sangamon County on March 15th. This led churches to move to digital platforms, live-streaming services to their congregations at home.
“It’s very different,” Father Chris House of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield. “I’ll be a priest 18 years in May and I’ve thought of many things that could disrupt our lives: wars, terrorism, earthquakes. The idea of a pandemic never crossed my mind.”
House along with 29 other priests in the Diocese of Springfield are now streaming mass services online. While some may see the technical interface as a barrier, for House,the new layout could be seen as a blessing.
“It’s been a challenge but it’s also been a time of grace because it’s amazing simply noticing, when live-streaming, how far these go out,” said House. “We don’t know who is watching it but a daily mass could get 3,000 views when normally there may be 50 or 60 people in attendance. It’s also fascinating just to see how faith and the new media are engaging each other.”
For House, the experience is a change of pace; he said streaming during the pandemic was his first time using Facebook Live. While broadcasting services this way may be new, House said there were already measures in place for other traditions like holy communion. “Even though people cannot receive that sacrament physically, we offer a prayer at that time of spiritual communion; asking God to pour his grace into the hearts of all who are watching and praying at that time.”
As the number of cases of coronavirus continues to rise around Illinois and the nation, House said he is already looking ahead, making digital plans for the week of Easter. “We will live-stream all the celebrations of Holy Week from the cathedral. So Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter vigil and Easter Sunday. Those of course will be with the bishop so we’re in discussions as to how that will look and what it will entail but those celebrations, prayers and masses will still be held and sent out to the faithful.”
Though we may be going through uncertain circumstances, House said now is not the time to worry. “Be at peace, stay in touch with people, and know that God is with us in this, as He is in all things, and this will pass and we will move forward.”