Southwest religious services move online

Southwest religious congregations have gotten creative in holding services online. Clockwise from top left: Bethlehem Lutheran Church streamed to YouTube; Rev. Lisa Wiens Heinsohn, of St. John's Episcopal Church, posted on Vimeo; First Unitarian Society broadcast to Facebook Live; Rev. Jen Crow, of First Universalist Church, experimented with both Facebook Live and Zoom. Submitted photos

Sitting in the library of First Universalist Church, Rev. Jen Crow grinned into a camera at the start of the South Uptown church’s first virtual service on March 13. The service was held a few hours after Gov. Tim Walz requested faith groups cancel in-person gatherings during the coronavirus outbreak.

“Hey, we’re trying this new thing, come on in,” Crow said. “Get comfortable, super good that you’re here. And just like church, we’ll wait for everyone to trickle in and arrive.”

A stream of names appeared next to the Facebook Live video as congregation members logged on. Crow greeted her parishioners by name.

“You don’t have to find parking, maybe that’s one plus, right?” she joked. “You made it in; no snow to tromp through.”

First Universalist is one of many religious organizations across Southwest Minneapolis that made the quick shift to online worship over the weekend, with thousands of local residents practicing their faith and staying in touch with their community on Facebook Live, Zoom and other streaming and non-streaming video platforms.

“I hope you feel as if I’m looking into each of your eyeballs,” Rev. Lisa Wiens Heinsohn told the congregation of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Linden Hills in a recorded Vimeo message. “We are experiencing lots of things, reading the news constantly and feeling scared and disappointed and isolated. … I’d like to invite us to let all of that drop for a bit; let’s become very present to each other.”

For Rabbi Michael Latz, of the Shir Tikvah congregation in Lynnhurst, transitioning from in-person worship to virtual has been a challenge, but one that his congregation has taken seriously.

Latz started giving a nightly virtual story hour for people in the synagogue on March 16. On the first night, he said, about 100 people tuned in to listen. Some parents told him the story hour helped get their kids to bed on their first night of “physical distancing.”

“I think people are rightfully scared,” he said. “But what I’m seeing in my own community and from other people is an incredible generosity of spirit.”

Latz said staff members have been on call to talk with members who are feeling anxious and lost. He said he’s seen many members of his congregation show up for each other in this time of crisis.

A family in the synagogue had to postpone their son’s Bar Mitzvah but had already paid for the catering order. Latz said the family put most of their food in containers and shared it with friends and with local food shelters.

“This is a moment that will test who we really are,” he said. “There are a lot of folks who are going to be really impacted by this, and we have to join together to ensure that everybody is cared for in our society.”

For Nettie Smith, a member of the Minneapolis Friends, the transition to digital worship is a bit more complicated. Many of the members of Minneapolis Friends are older and not familiar with video technology like Zoom. Much of the Quaker service is designed for silent worship, which also poses challenges.

Although the group still held two services on Feb. 15, Minneapolis Friends encouraged members who had health problems or were sick to stay home. Only 25 people attended the services, and worshippers were encouraged to sit 6 feet apart and use hand sanitizer when entering or leaving the space.

“It seems like there’s an opportunity in all this, to turn to a deeper wisdom,” Smith said. “We’re trying to think of ways to stay connected and also think about who’s the most vulnerable, not just from a health point of view but from a spiritual point of view — just [address] the need to feel connected.”

Smith said the Minneapolis Friends are planning to meet via Zoom for midweek worship and Sunday worship for the indefinite future.