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Wisconsin Worshipers Turn Online To Prevent Coronavirus Spread

Religious Leaders Stream Services To Comply With 'Stay-At-Home' Orders

Closed sign on church door
michael_swan (CC-BY-ND)

Worshipers across Wisconsin prayed from home this weekend as churches, mosques, synagogues and temples moved online, following Gov. Tony Evers month-long order for residents to stay at home to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

Local religious leaders began taking steps in early March to reduce the spread of COVID-19 by refraining from sharing communion or greeting fellow parishioners by shaking hands in Christian services.

But now, prayer services from all denominations are being streamed via platforms like Facebook, Zoom, Instagram and YouTube.

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The Rev. Jim Voiss, vice president for mission and ministry at Marquette University, celebrated mass for the first time online March 22. It was livestreamed from Madonna Della Strada Chapel in Zilber Hall on Marquette’s campus and viewed more than 1,700 times.

Voiss has been a priest for more than 30 years. He said it’s a little strange to only have a camera operator to look at while giving mass, but he knows it is necessary.

“All of us were concerned, even before gatherings were closed down by the governor’s directive, that we had to find a way of reaching out to people who were not going to be able participate in gatherings of worship,” Voiss said.

Voiss said he isn’t shying away from the topic of COVID-19 in his homily.

“Scriptures are meant to speak to the reality of how we live our faith,” Voiss said. “There is an awful lot of trauma for people in the way our lives have been cast into upheaval. There is a lot of fear. There is a lot of frustration and I would image, anger as well. This is not an escape from the world, but an entry more deeply into the world because that is where God desires to meet us.”

For the last two weeks, Sister Linda Szocik, a nurse practitioner at the School Sisters of St. Francis in Milwaukee, has watched mass from her apartment in St. Francis, a suburb just south of Milwaukee.

“I am here, in my own sacred space,” Szocik said. “I dial in to feel a connection with the larger holy church, but it is different.”

Szocik said while she misses going to church, she doesn’t want “safer-at-home” orders lifted before it is safe.

“We need to think of our global world and how we can support everyone who is in this together,” Szocik said. “I trust with the wisdom of our scientists and our leaders that know the right direction, that this will probably go on for some time and hopefully throughout this process, we can maybe resolve some of our prejudices and maybe learn how we are a world together.”

The Wisconsin Conference of the United Methodist Church, which represents churches across Wisconsin, has times and links to online services on its website.

Several local synagogues are offering virtual offerings for Shabbat services online.

Rabbi Hannah Wallick, vice president of outreach at the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, said synagogues have also changed the way they do lifecycle events.

Graveside funerals have no more than 10 people and one synagogue even did an online community celebration to welcome a baby, Wallick said.

“Passover seder this year will be a challenge,” Wallick said. “Many are learning how to conduct seders for the first time, since we cannot gather as family and community.”

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