COVID-19 has been disrupting daily life in the U.S. for more than a month, and most houses of worship haven’t held in-person services for at least two weeks. Have you run out of related story ideas yet?
The goal of this edition of ReligionLink is to get your creative juices flowing and provide some potential new angles for coronavirus coverage. Read on to discover story ideas, source suggestions and some of the best articles that have already been published.
1. Focus on financial stress
Social distancing rules did more than change how congregations worship. They also limited the options for collecting donations. As a result, many houses of worship are worried about their financial future and scrambling to increase online giving.
- Read “Religious groups are reeling from lost collections, fundraising events and more” from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on March 28, 2020.
- Read “As offerings dwindle, some churches fear for their future” from The Associated Press on March 21, 2020.
- Read “As coronavirus shuts church doors, Catholic parishes fight drastic drop in collections and archdiocese sets up emergency fund for parishes and those in need” from the Chicago Tribune on March 20, 2020.
- Read “Churches brace for financial hit with coronavirus” from the Houston Chronicle on March 11, 2020.
Betsy Bohlen is the chief operating officer for the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago.
The Rev. Josh Ellis is the executive director of the Union Baptist Association in Houston and an ordained Baptist pastor.
Imam Sikander Hashmi leads the Kanata Muslim Association in Ottawa, Canada. He’s also a member of the Canadian Council of Imams.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs is president of the Union for Reform Judaism, the central body of Reform Judaism in North America.
The Rev. Walter Kim is president of the National Association of Evangelicals and pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, Virginia.
2. Report on upcoming religious holidays
The COVID-19 pandemic is interfering with many major religious holidays, including Passover, Holy Week and Ramadan. How will faith communities move their traditional rituals online?
- Read “Reinventing Easter, Passover and other holiday meals in a time of limits” from The New York Times on March 27, 2020.
- Read “Coronavirus Passover: Families on Zoom, solo seders and broken traditions” from The Jerusalem Post on March 18, 2020.
- Read “What if Easter, Ramadan and Passover get canceled?” from Religion News Service on March 17, 2020.
- Read “Pope to celebrate Holy Week without the presence of the faithful” from Crux on March 14, 2020.
- Read “Coronavirus forces mosques to reassess weekly prayers and Ramadan plans” from HuffPost on March 13, 2020.
Hyder Ali is the president of the Muslim Association of Puget Sound in Washington.
Satjeet Kaur is the executive director of the Sikh Coalition. The nonprofit has launched get-out-the-vote efforts. Coronavirus-related restrictions on group gatherings will affect how Sikhs celebrate Vaisakhi, an annual religious festival.
Shannon Johnson Kershner
The Rev. Shannon Johnson Kershner is lead pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago. She previously served as a member of the strategy team for NEXT Church, an initiative that encourages Presbyterian pastors to help plan for the denomination’s future.
The Rev. Thomas J. Reese is a Jesuit priest and senior analyst for Religion News Service. He writes and comments widely on Catholic culture and politics. He is the author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church.
Imam Omar Suleiman is founder and president of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research and an adjunct professor of Islamic studies at Southern Methodist University. He is also the resident scholar at Valley Ranch Islamic Center in Irving, Texas.
3. Explore the rise of new forms of worship
Due to restrictions on group gatherings, most houses of worship have temporarily canceled all in-person events. Religious leaders are practicing new ministry skills, such as delivering sermons via video conference, hearing confessions in a parking lot and leading livestreamed funeral services.
- Read “Becoming a man, virtually” from The New York Times on March 25, 2020.
- Read “The new sound of worship services: ‘Can you mute your mic? Amen’” from The Washington Post on March 20, 2020.
- Read “The coronavirus is upending thousands of years of Jewish tradition” from Religion News Service on March 20, 2020.
- Read “In the time of the coronavirus, one Nashville church offers drive-thru communion” from The Tennessean on March 18, 2020.
Jamie Aten is founder and executive director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College. He is an expert on religious responses to public emergencies, including hurricanes and mass shootings. Aten is also a founding signer of the Prayers and Action petition, which calls on the evangelical Christian community to do more to address gun violence.
Letitia Campbell is an assistant professor of ethics at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, where she also coordinates the Laney Legacy Program in moral leadership and the clinical pastoral education program. She studies Christian evangelization, especially in short mission trips, and helps run a Facebook group on virtual ministry tools.
Rabbi Barry Leff is the interim senior rabbi of Herzl-Ner Tamid synagogue in Mercer Island, Washington. When his conservative Jewish congregation was unable to meet due to the coronavirus, he led online Shabbat services.
Rabbi Joshua Lesser leads Congregation Bet Haverim in Atlanta. He also helps direct a Facebook group for worship leaders highlighting best practices for virtual ministry.
The Rev. Stephen Tilley leads Saint John the Baptist Catholic Parish in Draper, Utah. During the COVID-19 pandemic, while his church building is shut down, he is hearing people’s confessions from his Jeep.
4. Investigate how faith groups are lending a hand
Religious communities may be struggling with coronavirus-related challenges, but that hasn’t stopped them from serving people in need. Faith-based food pantries, homeless shelters and other service organizations remain open, and they’re trying to expand their offerings in response to rising unemployment.
- Read “Coronavirus: Church is helping Iran, Italy, China and 13 other countries with medical supplies, ramps up food production” from the Deseret News on March 20, 2020.
- Read “Houses of worship pitch in to help those left vulnerable by virus outbreak” from Religion News Service on Marcj 19, 2020.
- Read “A megachurch has helped test nearly 1,000 people for coronavirus in two days” from The Washington Post on March 19, 2020.
Nancy Benyamin is volunteer services director for Jewish Family Service of Colorado, which provides care to Denver and Boulder residents of all ages, including immigrants and refugees.
Tarek El-Messidi is the founding director of CelebrateMercy, a Muslim nonprofit working to support people in need. CelebrateMercy partnered with two other Muslim organizations to raise funds for families affected by the coronavirus-linked economic downturn.
Sharon Eubank directs LDS Charities, the humanitarian arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She also serves as first counselor in the first presidency of the church’s Relief Society, an organization for female Latter-day Saints. Arrange an interview through Eric Hawkins.
Russell Moore is director of the Public Theology Project at Christianity Today.
The Rev. Jason Micheli is the head pastor of Annandale United Methodist Church in Virginia. Amid the COVID-19 crisis, his church revamped its mission center programming to keep volunteers and clients safe.
5. Look for religious freedom lawsuits
Some houses of worship object to state-mandated closures, arguing that religious freedom law protects their ability to operate as they see fit. Lawsuits have already been filed challenging the stay-at-home orders and gathering bans that restrict in-person religious activity.
- Read “Yes, the government can force churches to close. Here’s why” from the Deseret News on March 21, 2020.
- Read “Close the churches” from The Atlantic on March 18, 2020.
- Read “Keep the churches open!” from First Things on March 17, 2020.
Stanley Carlson-Thies is founder and senior director of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, which has called for a “Fairness for All” approach to religious freedom and LGBTQ rights. He previously worked on faith-based initiatives for the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations.
John Inazu is a professor of law and religion at Washington University in St. Louis, where he also teaches political science. He specializes in legal issues related to the First Amendment’s free speech, assembly and religious freedom protections.
Russell Reno is editor of First Things, a magazine published by the Institute on Religion and Public Life. He writes regularly on topics such as politics, the economy and religious freedom.
Melissa Rogers is a nonresident senior fellow in governance studies for Brookings, where she specializes in the First Amendment’s religion clauses and religion and faith-related political issues. She previously served as special assistant to President Barack Obama and executive director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
Robin Fretwell Wilson
Robin Fretwell Wilson is the co-director of the Family Law and Policy Program at the University of Illinois, where she also teaches. She is also the director the Institute of Government and Public Affairs for the University of Illinois System. Her books include Religious Freedom, LGBT Rights, and the Prospects for Common Ground and The Contested Place of Religion in Family Law.