The chapel at SCH Academy where
Cresheim Valley Church holds services.

by Sue Ann Rybak

Following the recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control that groups of 50 or more not meet to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, churches, synagogues, mosques and other faith-based institutions have canceled public prayer service until March 27 or even the middle of April.

As of March 18, all public masses in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia are suspended until further notice.

Fr. Bob Bazzoli, OSFS, pastor at Our Mother of Consolation Catholic Church in Chestnut Hill, said the church would be open for private prayer on Sunday, March 22,  from 8 a.m. to noon. He is asking people to maintain the recommended six feet of social distance.

Cresheim Valley Church in Chestnut Hill, which usually meets on Springside Chestnut Hill Academy’s campus, may have been the first church in our area to cancel public services and move prayer services online because they were prohibited from using SCH’s facilities. Pastor John Leonard said they did continue to have church services online through Facebook Live and Zoom.

“We are still providing a virtual worship experience and our small group meetings through Zoom,” he said.

The church has also been trying to reach out to those in need through social media. The Local contacted Pastor Leonard after seeing a post on Nextdoor Chestnut Hill offering to help people pick up groceries, medication or fix a broken door that won’t lock.

“We want to let people know we are here for them if they need it,” he said. “We are encouraging people to get to know their neighbors, create a phone list and pass around any news that might be helpful. We are also encouraging young people to volunteer with Philabundance because they have lost a lot of volunteer help due to COVID-19. [Many of Philabundance and other nonprofit organizations volunteers are retired Americans who are at a higher risk of contacting a serious case of COVID-19].

He added that the church is also asking people to donate items because many poor people in the city are running out of needed supplies, including food, diapers, toilet paper, baby formula etc.

“So, we are trying to staff volunteers to collect and deliver food and other items to people,” he said.

Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, 8000 St. Martins Ln. in Chestnut Hill, has suspended “in-person worship” for the month of March. Following CDC recommendation, it also canceled community suppers and moved all services online.

When asked what the church was doing to help members of the community, Rev. Jarrett Kerbel, rector of Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, said the church is “really focused on” and is concerned for people who are isolated.

“We are recruiting volunteers for neighbors if someone is quarantined or if someone is isolated because they feel like it’s a danger for them to go out,” Kerbel said. “We will help them  get their groceries, laundry or dry cleaning.”

He said several people have already offered to volunteer to help fellow church members and community members with little, everyday tasks, so people feel less isolated and alone.

“We are also ramping up our food pantry in the church,” he added. “So, if anybody in the community is short on food, they can just stop in and pick up a bag with food here at the church.”

He added that people can also feel free to drop nonperishable food off at the parish house.

“We are also doing a lot of phone calls to our members to see what the needs are to shape our response,” Kerbel said. “And that response is not going to be just for neighbors, but friends of neighbors. We need to stay apart, but that doesn’t mean we stop caring for one another.”

Rabbi Yael Levy, of Mishkan Shalom, 4101 Freeland Ave. in Roxborough, said church members were “doing their best to help each other stay connected and well cared for.”

The synagogue has moved everything online until the Passover holiday comes, which falls this year on the second week of April. She said the synagogue will evaluate what to do next at that time.

“We moved our Shabbat services online,” she said. “We offer torah studies online once a week and check in with rabbi through Zoom room.”

She said they are in the process of setting up a meditation and healing circle once a week. She said access is free to Mishkan Shalom members or anyone else interested in gaining access.

“We are moving everything online as a way to discover new ways to gather and keep ourselves from feel isolated and alone,” Levy said. “We are still very aware of the interconnectedness of life and how we can live into that with care and love and kindness.”

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 22 E. Chestnut Hill Ave. has canceled public worship until March 31. The sanctuary will remain open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for individual prayer, meditation and walking the the church’s labyrinth. Clergy will be available for pastoral care.

Christ Ascension Lutheran Church, 8300 Germantown Ave., canceled all in-person gatherings, including worship services, until further notice. However, people can still click on the “We Gather” tab on the church’s website to watch a recorded worship for each Sunday.

The Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill said in a letter on its website dated March 12 that the church decided “to cancel in person worship for the next two Sundays, March 15 and 22, and all activities in the building during that time.” The church encouraged members to check its website, chestnuthillpres.org, and Facebook page for updates.

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