Worship During the Pandemic at the Pioneer Valley Shambhala Center

Item

Title

Worship During the Pandemic at the Pioneer Valley Shambhala Center

Description

Description of worship during the pandemic at the Pioneer Valley Shambhala Center including a screenshot of a letter from their director to the community

Date Created

2020-12-06

Community

Pioneer Valley Shambhala Center

Denomination

Shambhala Tibetan Buddhism

State

Massachusetts

Genre

letter

Date

December 6, 2020

extracted text

Website Post
In the early morning of a cool fall day in Northampton, MA, members of the Pioneer Valley
Shambhala Center (PVSC) wake up and prepare themselves to head to the center’s meditation
service. Instead of getting in their cars and driving to the PVSC, however, they power on their
computers and launch Zoom, an online audio and video communication software. This has been
the experience of members of the PVSC for the past nine months as a result of stay-at-home
orders during the COVID-19 pandemic. Like many other religious organizations, the PVSC has
needed to adapt to statewide quarantine and social distancing mandates while also facing some
unique challenges of their own during this time.
One of the primary challenges that the PVSC has faced is the inability to meet in person. This is
because their center does not have space for the community to follow general social distancing
guidelines and because the majority of their community is made up of older individuals. Mark
Seibold, director of the PVSC, also mentioned in an interview that the center has received little to
no direct guidance from the state government about how religious communities should conduct
themselves during this time. Because the center has been unable to conduct in-person services, all
events have been moved online to Zoom. Unfortunately, the move to online services has resulted
in a decrease in community engagement, down to about a third of the typical amount. Seibold
also mentioned in his interview that this decline in participation may be because of a perceived
lack of social interaction online. He said that many folks come to events primarily for the five to
ten minutes of social engagement that typically occur before and after services but have been
neglecting to join Zoom services because this is not as much of a part of the functions.
The PVSC has also not been able to host their seasonal equinox/solstice celebrations since the
start of the pandemic because of a lack of community interest and costs. For the same reasons,
Seibold says that the center will not be hosting its annual celebration of ​Losar ​or Tibetan New
Year. The pandemic has also put a strain on the center’s typical influx of new members. Because
of the center’s move to be completely online, there has not been nearly as much walk-by/drop-in
interest at the center’s physical location. Between this issue and the decrease in community
participation, Seibold says that the services have been relatively small and intimate throughout
the pandemic and that the center will need to garner the attention of new members after social
distancing guidelines are lifted.
Like many other religious communities and institutions, the PVSC has been finding ways to
adapt to both the new challenges caused by the pandemic and ongoing issues that have
continuously impacted the community. Although the transition to online practices has had its
limitations, it has also opened up new opportunities to the community. Conducting sessions
online has encouraged more participation from people who live in other parts of the country and

even globally to practice with the PVSC. Because of this, the pandemic has offered the
community a new perspective on how to better connect their members around the world. The
benefits of having an online component to the center have led the community to think about
how they can continue making their practices more accessible online beyond the pandemic.
The pandemic has not only brought up new issues but it has also highlighted ongoing issues that
may threaten the future of the community. With the majority of the community’s members
being older in age, Shambhala International continues to struggle with attracting younger
members. Since the transition to online gathering, casual drop-ins can’t happen causing newer
interest in Shambhala Buddhism to decrease significantly. In addition, poor advertising has
made it difficult for the community to attract new members. This issue alongside the decrease in
member participation due to the online transition will continue to challenge Shambhala
International in maintaining their community in the years to come.

A letter from the director of the PVSC, Mark Seibold, to the community near the start of the COVID-19 pandemic

This item was submitted on December 6, 2020 by [anonymous user] using the form “Contribute Your Materials” on the site “Pandemic Religion: A Digital Archive”: https://pandemicreligion.org/s/contributions

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