Amid coronavirus, technology helps connect the devout with religious observances – News – MetroWest Daily News, Framingham, MA

Amid coronavirus, technology helps connect the devout with religious observances - News - MetroWest Daily News, Framingham, MA

Joey Franklin has been preparing for his bar mitzvah for months.

Since August he has traveled to Temple Beth Am in Framingham to practice reading a portion of the Torah and perfect the chants and prayers recited during the Jewish service.

Joey spent hundreds of hours getting ready for the Jewish ritual when 13-year-old boys mark their transition into adulthood. At the age of 12, women have bat mitzvahs, the same coming-of-age ritual.

The vast majority of Jewish men and women have relatives who travel from all over the world to take part in the big day, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, that’s not an option for Joey. His bar mitzvah is scheduled for Saturday.

But that doesn’t mean he won’t have extended family present – and he has technology to thank for that.

Joey’s bar mitzvah will be streamed on the video conference service, Zoom. On Saturday, relatives and family friends will log on and see the culmination of Joey’s hard work.

“Just a couple of years ago, this never would have been heard of. It’s just kinda crazy how humanity can adapt so quickly, “ Joey told the Daily News in an telephone interview earlier this week.

As stay-at-home advisories spread across the state, the country and the world over the past several weeks, religious organizations had to come up with new ways to provide spiritual comfort to their members and help them celebrate important rituals.

And since Gov. Charlie Baker issued an emergency order on March 23 – which calls for all non-essential service organizations and businesses to close and prohibits gatherings of more than 10 people – places of worship have had to double down on those efforts over the past week.

In MetroWest, most religious organizations, such as Temple Beth Am, are taking advantage of Facebook Live, Youtube, and Zoom to livestream  their services and classes over the internet.

At Congregation Beth El in Sudbury, all services are live streamed from their sanctuary and classes are being broadcast on Zoom, said Rabbi Joshua Breindal.

“In last week’s Torah’s portion, we shared how this divine cloud comes down and settles on the meeting, and I said to my community, ‘Hey, here we are in the cloud. The service was being broadcasted.’ While we weren’t physically in the same place, we are still uniting spiritually through technology.”

Others, such as Immaculate Conception Parish in Marlborough, are taking it a step further. In addition to streaming daily Mass on Facebook and offering a livestream of the blessed sacrament, the parish is offering drive-thru confession hours. Penance is an especially important sacrament  during the Lenten season leading up to Easter.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.p.m. and on Saturdays from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m, the public is invited to drive into the parish’s parking lot, where a priest will take confession from his vehicle. The priest will be in his vehicle with his window down and a person who wants to give confession pulls up and sits parallel to the priest’s car – the same way police officers communicate with one other in their respective cruisers when side by side.

The Rev. Steven Clemence, pastor of the church, said while technology has been a huge help in helping the church connect with members, nothing compares to being able to worship together in person.

“This has been a great source of comfort, especially for those who are home-bound even before the whole crisis,” he said, noting that their Masses have been televised for awhile. “There is this sense that we are are all connected, but at the same time, as social beings we want to be with each other, not virtually with each other.”

That sentiment was shared by the Rev. Mark J. Coiro of St. Mary’s Cathoic Church in Holliston. The church livestreams Mass every Sunday, and will soon livestream morning prayers. It has also placed a Eucharist near the rectory window so worshipers will be able to look at it from the church’s parking lot and pray.

“It’s still a beautiful experience, but it’s lessened without the people,” he said. “The people are the church. They are the living body of Christ. … Looking at a camera instead of looking at the people you are trying to connect to and talk to face to face, is not as satisfying, but we are blessed we are able to do that at this time.”

One of the most disappointing aspects of this whole pandemic is that the St. Mary’s can no longer offer funeral services, Coiro said.

In the last week, Coiro has given the anointing of the sick to three very devout church members who are close to death from non-COVID-19-related illnesses.

Coiro said the church is still offering private Masses for regular church goers and for the sick.

Carol Hanover, President of Temple Beth Am, said the temple is making the most of the situation and is encouraged by the number of people who have joined in on Zoom chats for both services and classes.

“We’ve had perfect attendance in classes, that haven’t had perfect attendance on most nights,” she said, adding that the service is user friendly. “We’re talking about keeping it going, even after the current crisis passes because we got a thank you note from one member, whose mom is pretty much house-bound because she hadn’t been able to attend a service in a very long time.”

While Joey is disappointed his relatives and friends cannot join him at Temple Beth Am for his bar mitzvah, he is grateful for the technology that allows them share in the ceremony.

“It’s going to be a pretty good story to pass down from generation to generation,” he said.

Cesareo Contreras writes about environmental issues and technology for the Daily News. He can be reached at 508-626-3957 or Follow him on Twitter @cesareo_r.

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