The eight days of Passover began this week and, along with Christianity’s Holy Week falling the same time, religious institutions are looking for creative ways to provide services to their congregants now that places of worship are closed as a result of the pandemic’s social gathering restrictions.
Last Sunday, St. Patrick’s Church in Highland Mills, St. Anastasia in Harriman, and St. Paul Lutheran Church and Sacred Heart Church in Monroe used either Facebook Live or YouTube to broadcast Palm Sunday services.
Religious leaders led those services with empty pews where, in past years, there would be standing room only.
For Easter Sunday, the holiest day on the Christian calendar, they will again lead services using technical platforms they would have never considered months prior.
“The only word I can use is eerie, it’s really eerie,” said the Rev. David Rider, Sacred Heart pastor “It’s not the way it’s supposed to be. I know there’s a video camera there, but anytime you do public speaking, to not have people there, it just feels so eerie. The biggest challenge is not being able to congregate when you’re an institution whose main function is to provide liturgy for large groups. It becomes awfully hard to do that when gatherings of people are not allowed.
“We’re doing our best, these times call for creativity,” he said. “And, we’re trying to be creative. But it’s always going to be a poor substitute for the real thing. It’s the best we have right now. People are understanding because they know it’s out of our control.”
For example, he’s set up drive-through confessions where people don’t need to leave their cars. There continues to receive a huge response from his social media shout out to parishioners to email family photos. He’s taking all those photos and taping them to the church’s pews so he can see their faces as he leads the Easter Sunday services.
But, Rider added: “I think it’s OK for the people in the pews and the for the priests and ministers to acknowledge there’s nothing wrong with being disappointed that we can’t be together in church in the holiest week of the year.”
Financial support, gained through weekly collections and automatic payments, is down, he acknowledged.
“The collections have gone way down and that’s a real challenge for us,” said Rider. “If you really want to help your parish, the best thing you can do right now is to sign up for automatic giving. I have to pay our ‘family’s bills’ just the way you have to pay your family’s bills. I have employees to pay. I have an O&R bill. I have a water bill. Our church lives paycheck to paycheck.”
But Rider, ever the spiritual guide, reminded those of all faiths to stay connected with their place of worship.
“Just because you’re away from church doesn’t mean you have to lose your connection with God,” he said. “Jews and Christians, and I believe Muslims, believe God is everywhere. Continue to pray, read your sacred texts and watch the services online. Stay in touch with God and remember just because you’ve temporarily lost your physical connection with your church doesn’t mean you’ve lost your spiritual connection with your church.”
Rider also made a Good Friday connection.
“In a sense, we have a chance to live out Good Friday by not being able to go (to church),” he added. “And I think we should all look forward to the biggest Easter Sunday that’s coming for us when this whole thing is resolved. The day that we will all be back together at church, I think that will be the real Easter for us.”
‘Hang in there, we’re going to get through this as a community’
Essential businesses face challenges, too
Social distancing mandates have changed the way even essential businesses like the Life Science Pharmacy in Harriman operate.
This small, family-operated compound pharmacy has a loyal following for people interested in nutritional supplements and compound prescriptions not available at large pharmacy retailers.
“Our hours haven’t been affected, but the access to the store has changed because we’re not allowing people to shop around,” said nutritionist Jessica Berliner. “We’re encouraging curb side pickup. We don’t want people walking around inside.”
Berliner’s brother David is the store’s manager and their father Scott is its compounding pharmacist. They’ve been at this location for more than 10 years.
Business volume fluctuates. When everyone started social distancing, there was a boom, but now that everyone’s stocked up, there’s a lull. While Berliner didn’t know how much business has decreased, she said it’s noticeable.
“It’s (the pandemic) strange and it’s changed the dynamic of how we function,” said Berliner. “A lot of what we do is provide recommendations and help people with what they’re looking for. But when they are in the store for such a short time you can’t do that. We’ve also been, in some ways, incredibly busy. People are trying to stock up. Like what they do with toilet paper, they’re hoarding things like their supplements and medications. We’ve had to start limiting people on the immune support supplements like Vitamin C, zinc and elderberry. They’re living in fear of what might happen in the next months.”
Berliner is also seeing delays in receiving products, due to manufacture slowdowns tied to decreased production hours.
“Our manufacturers are limiting their supplies,” she added. “They can’t keep up with the demand. Things are out of stock, it’s a whole new world for us. Some people are understanding and some are pushing back but we want to try to support everyone as we can.”
Life Science ships its compounded prescriptions locally, regionally and nationwide. Berliner is also concerned about shipping delays for their patients.
“People are calling with a lot of questions and we don’t have the answers,” she said “People are asking if we’re going to be able to stay open, if we’re going to be able so ship stuff in the next week and delivery schedules with Fed Ex and UPS. Not being to give definitive answers when it comes to people’s health is a bit scary to us.”
Berliner remains grateful for ongoing customer support.
“We’re really appreciative of people supporting small businesses during this time and trusting their health with us,” she added. “It’s allowed us to stay open and as much as they help us, we’re trying to help them. Hang in there, we’re going to get through this as a community.”
‘I’m just trying to keep relevant.’
While restaurants are allowed to have takeout and delivery during the COVID-19 crisis, a special subset of this business sector has a special set of challenges: Ice cream and food trucks.
The Ice Mother and Sons, a seasonal business, was gearing up for its annual season which begins this month.
That’s not happening, now.
“All April and May events have been canceled,” said co-owner Dawn Radice of Monroe. “The school events, weddings, graduations, camps, corporate business, a lot of festivals. All canceled. I’ve had a few people cancel for the beginning of June and some waiting to see if they can reschedule. There’s no gatherings.”
Radice’s truck, a noticeable fixture driving around the greater Monroe area, features ice and ice cream treats of all kinds.
"This is our ninth season,” said Radice. “Our business is down by 80 or 90 percent. I’m trying to use a pre-paid delivery service option, similar to what essential services like restaurants do. I’m taking orders for the ice and ice cream and delivering curbside, just like a pizzeria or Chinese takeout. My husband is now my only worker. No one is going on my truck but him. Not even me.”
Her main way of communicating to clients is through Facebook or through her phone: 549-5553. She’s recently tried ganging up orders for portions of the county in order to save expenses, and delivering to customers without any delivery charge as an incentive. Goshen and Washingtonville were recent examples.
“I waive the travel fee,” said Radice. “I try to stick to a day when it would work so I could get more people in the area to make deliveries. It was on and off, but it wasn’t enough. All I’m doing in filling up my gas tank, I’m not making a profit. I’m just trying to keep relevant.”
Relevancy is important, but so is reality.
“It’s definitely not supporting my household,” Radice said. “We’re trying. We’ll keep going until we can’t. I’m feeling each day out. It’s not enough business, that’s for sure. I’m not even sure what I’m going to do with this business now, it’s not enough. Just talking about it is frustrating.”
But, she hoped that some people might find an ice cream treat to be a welcome distraction.
“I know there’s more priorities than ice cream,” Radice said. “But If you have five people in the house, for $10 you can get something to bring some normalcy to your house. People are antsy, their kids are overwhelming them, a lot of people are not working. All understandable. I know the community is trying to support everyone.
“It’s been so uncertain, she added. “I’m in the same boat as everyone else. Probably worse, because I’m not a restaurant, I’m mobile. There’s only so much I can offer.”