Digital Archive Project.pdf

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Part of Chris Taylor's Digital Archive Project

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Chris Taylor
Digital Archive Project
Faith has often been a comforting factor for many people suffering through difficult
circumstances. As the COVID-19 pandemic began to grow ever more ominously in America,
various religious leaders knew they had a tall task at hand in strengthening their congregants
and offering a message of hope. Several adjustments were needed in order to reach out to their
members once the government decided to shut down or minimize the number of people that
could meet together in a public place. Many religious groups established, or emphasized, social
media platforms in order to help meet the need of connecting with their people. The pandemic
has impacted people in a variety of both positive and negative ways in the last few months.
Some people have strengthened their religious convictions due to increased reflection on
religious values and participation in religious rituals. Others have become more relaxed in their
religious attendance because of the availability of religious services now offered online. These
different factors have forced religious leadership to reflect on and act to strengthen their
members’ faith and encourage continued religious engagement. In this digital archive project I
have interviewed three different religious leaders to document their experiences in connection
with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first interview is with Mike Edwards. He has acted as a youth instructor for the
Catholic Church in Utah for the past several years. Mike believes that the pandemic has
exposed contact issues within his church. Once churches were closed, his leadership group
struggled at first to find correct contact information, especially for members that were not regular
participants. The pandemic forced them to reach out to members in a variety of ways in order to
update this information and stay in touch with more distant members. Another frustration that
Mike expressed, and he has observed in his congregation, is frustration stemming from
government influence in services. While he understands the need to be safe, and advocates for
measures like increased cleaning and distancing, he finds it upsetting to see lots of different

businesses stay open but have his church shut down. He argued that in the Catholic Church
their services serve a greater purpose than simply doctrinal clarification. While he has been
impressed with the ability of church leaders to post information on social media, he believes that
many of the ritualistic elements of religions can not be adequately pushed online.
In the interview with Rabbi Ari Lorge he discusses an interesting difference to political
involvement. His frustration with the government has not stemmed from their decision to shut
down the church but their limited action and inability to work together to help the states. One of
the most interesting points he made was about the Jewish principle of Pikuach Nefesh. This
core principle of Judaism encourages the sanctity of life and the need to preserve it. Even
before the state of New York officially shut down their meetings he and his rabbinical team
decided to close in-person services. The decision came because they noticed that more
vulnerable members were too willing to come to services despite the potential danger in
attending. They tried offering online platforms for these members but when they continued to
show up in person he decided to close services to protect them. As a Reformed Jew, he admits
that they are more willing to adapt services, some of which he never imagined could be
streamed online, in order to protect and support their members. Rather than worry about the
streaming services like Mike did, he has applauded the efforts to significantly ramp up online
platforms to reach a larger audience. He does admit that this is not without sacrifice. Like Mike,
he said that some people are not only grieving because of the loss of a loved one or job, but the
loss of events not taking place as they had hoped. Certain events like the bar or b’nai mitzvah
signal the introduction of Jewish youth into adulthood and are often great celebrations. These
celebrations, weddings, baby blessings etc have all needed to continue without much of the
fanfare that would normally be given to them. While he feels bad for this, he says the leadership
in his group have tried to emphasize support for the community and the need to transform the
individual home into a religious sanctuary, much as the Israelites did with the movable
tabernacle.

The final interview comes from the perspective of Shawn Fessler, a member of a local
bishopric in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He shares some of the political
frustrations of the others and mentioned that this has split some members in his congregation.
He believes the local leadership are nervous to enforce some of the political mandates such as
wearing masks for fear that some may be offended and leave. Even though this has
necessitated some uncomfortable conversations he feels there has been more positive than
negative religious impact due to the pandemic. He feels that many people have a renewed faith
in the church leadership for preparing people to establish home centered learning even before
the pandemic broke out in America. He also thinks that this has placed the responsibility of
teaching back on parents with church support rather than the other way around.
Two common thoughts and observances between all three interviews is the growth in a
sense of community and a concern for the youth of each congregation. All three emphasized the
individual work being done at the local level. Neighbors and regular church goers taking the
initiative to support others in their community. This increase in charitable giving has been a
positive observance made in each of the interviews. Shawn mentioned that when he looks at
contributions given this year, more people are choosing to give more in offerings than they had
previously. He said that he knows several people who feel they have been blessed in terms of
job security and feel a desire to pay it forward in the church. He also attributes part of this to the
lack of spending options. With people not traveling, dining out, or spending money on recreation
as much due to closures, they have more money to give to the local church. All three
interviewed believed that religion helps establish a sense of community that works to aid in
difficult times like 2020. The second common idea in all interviews was a concern for the youth,
especially teenagers. In each church, those interviewed claimed that special efforts were being
made to keep teenagers involved in religious engagement. This included a larger social media
push, charity work, and other distanced social activities.