5 ways to cover the COVID-19 crisis

New Hope United Methodist Church in Greenbush, Wisconsin, canceled all in-person events in response to the coronavirus pandemic, like most churches. (Awkwafaba via Creative Commons)

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.

Related coverage

Potential sources

  • Betsy Bohlen

    Betsy Bohlen is the chief operating officer for the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago.

  • Josh Ellis

    The Rev. Josh Ellis is the executive director of the Union Baptist Association in Houston and an ordained Baptist pastor.

  • Sikander Hashmi

    Imam Sikander Hashmi leads the Kanata Muslim Association in Ottawa, Canada. He’s also a member of the Canadian Council of Imams.

    Contact: 613-973-5000.
  • Rick Jacobs

    Rabbi Rick Jacobs is president of the Union for Reform Judaism, the central body of Reform Judaism in North America.

  • Walter Kim

    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?

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Potential sources

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.

Related coverage

Potential sources

  • Jamie Aten

    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

    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.

  • Barry Leff

    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.

  • Joshua Lesser

    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.

  • Stephen Tilley

    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.

Related coverage

Potential sources

  • Nancy Benyamin

    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

    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

    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

    Russell Moore is editor-in-chief of Christianity Today. Named in 2017 as one of Politico Magazine’s top fifty influence-makers in Washington, Moore was previously President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

  • Jason Micheli

    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.

Related coverage

Potential sources

  • Stanley Carlson-Thies

    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

    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

    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

    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.