The phrase “socially distanced, but spiritually connected” has been making the rounds in in Oklahoma. For communities of faith, the concept is counterintuitive: community implies gathering.
Given the government-issued safety directives, most faith communities have complied and canceled gatherings. But what does “spiritually connected” look like in the midst of a pandemic? We asked religious professionals how their congregations were meeting the need to stay spiritually bonded.
Marty Grubbs, senior pastor of Crossings Community Church, has been pastoring the same congregation for just shy of 40 years. He talked about the challenges we’re facing.
“The primary challenge is to stay connected to someone in your faith circle,” he said, “and that doesn’t just mean your church or house of worship. It can be a believer of another faith, but faith is sustained in community.”
Grubbs said it’s important right now for people to take the initiative more than ever. “We are on our own in many ways, but this is an opportunity, too, to clear cobwebs, do some reading, consider others’ perspectives, think for yourself, and find out who you are when you’re alone. Do you feel connected to a being who cares for you?”
Grubbs also encouraged people to “stay in the path of their faith,” which includes practicing the traditional spiritual disciplines: scripture reading, prayer, meditation and contemplation.
“I’m learning that we may not have been equipping our people well to know what to do in a time like this,” Grubbs said. “I grew up with a ‘come to us every weekend’ mentality about church, but we need to be preparing people to spend time alone, too — to be self-sufficient about practicing in their own lives.”
Grubbs concluded with advice for believers of all kinds: “We’re in for a heavy dose of practicing what we say we believe, and we have to remain sensitive during these times. Pay attention to your neighbors. Maintain distance, but check on each other. And we’re likely going to be facing a lot of loss, so avoid the temptation to spiritualize the suffering or explain God.”
Rabbi Vered Harris of Temple B’nai Israel echoes many of Grubbs’s suggestions for caring for each other. “Remember that we’re going through this together,” she said. “If we are to believe some of the experts, none of us will have (more than) three degrees of separation from knowing someone who is suffering. We maintain our hope by remembering that the world has suffered calamities before, and we must go through it to get out of it, but there will come a time when we are on the other side of this.”
Harris’s congregation is one of many in the city using online technology, including Zoom, to hold services, see each other face-to-face (in a manner of speaking), pray together and encourage one another.
“We will of course use technology to give people opportunity to come together, and that includes funerals, sitting shivah (a mourning practice for Jews), and Shabbat services, but we’ve also started 8:30 a.m. check-ins Sunday through Friday morning, where people can log in and pray with us, hear a thought for the day and even a liturgical song.”
Harris said the best advice she’s had for her congregation is “when you get sick, everything else stops, so let’s stop now and keep people from getting sick.”