Church, funerals go online during coronavirus crisis

Church, funerals go online during coronavirus crisis

Kurt Walker, pastor of Chapel Street Congregational Church in Lincoln, checks in virtually with members of the church this week amid the coronavirus outbreak.

LINCOLN – In the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, places of worship and funeral homes have had to innovate like never before.

Heeding the governor’s directive to stay indoors and limit social gatherings, local churches and funeral homes are now offering online streaming services.

Allan Bellows II, a seventh-generation funeral director and vice president of Bellows Funeral Chapel in Lincoln, said the spread of COVID-19 has created severe limitations on the community aspect of the grieving process.

“When a loved one passes, having the love and support of the community is vital for families. It helps people begin the process of healthy grieving. Limiting that has been a difficult thing,” he said.

Like many other funeral homes, Bellows has limited face-to-face contact and restricted the number of guests who can visit the funeral home during a service or stand in line outside.

Their Sympathy in Spirit program gives people the opportunity to share condolences and messages of support by calling the funeral home or visiting the website to upload a note or video message.

“We’re coming up with different solutions to help meet families’ emotional needs,” Bellows said, including live-streaming services.

Many churches, including those under the Roman Catholic Diocese, are for the time being no longer conducting full Masses of Christian burials.

Bellows said many of his clients are currently opting for more private family burial services, or choosing to have a public celebration of life at a later date.

“We’re there to make everything happen for them in a way that balances their needs and what the state is allowing us to do,” he said. “Technology is becoming a very big component, at least in the short-term as we navigate through all this.”

Bellows said the disruption may have a long-term impact on the industry, with increased offerings of streaming services for relatives who can't be there in person.

“We’re encouraging people to reach out via phone, text or video message. It’s important that grieving families have that lifeline and are able to connect with people. Those going through the grieving process need all of the help and support they can get, and unfortunately this has acutely impacted them,” Bellows said. “Any kind of thoughtful gesture you can pass on to a grieving family is important.”

The J.J. Duffy Funeral Home in Cumberland announced that it would be leveraging similar technology at no cost to assist in providing the public a way to offer condolences, participate in funeral services and help families heal.

Funeral directors Jeffrey and Brian Bernardo are offering Skype video calls and Facebook Live broadcasts.

Jeffrey Bernardo said simply sharing a kind word and showing families that they aren’t alone goes a long way on the journey through grief.

The funeral home has offered live webcasting of funeral services for 10 years.

Churches have likewise switched to online streaming services as the number of coronavirus cases has risen in Rhode Island and across the world.

Kurt Walker, pastor of Chapel Street Congregational Church in Lincoln, said church leaders worked quickly and creatively to assure that the community could “be at church” while not physically gathering together.

Through at least the end of the month or until restrictions are lifted, Walker said he will offer a morning devotion/update, checking on members electronically, and purchasing online video conferencing software that Walker said would enable them to “communicate with each other as often as we wish, with as many participants as we wish.”

So far, they’ve created two virtual "gathering” opportunities on Sundays at 10 a.m. and Thursdays at 7 p.m. Walker said 45 people attended Sunday’s check-in.

The church’s minister of music, Othniel Clarke, has been recording 30 minutes of piano music and posting it to Facebook, and Director of Christian Education Denise Inman has created educational packets to send to families.

“In times of trouble, churches are called to be the voice of hope, to inspire, and to remind people of the divine and God’s hand in all of it, the good and the bad," he said.

"At our core, all faith communities are called to bring people together, to bring people into community, to prevent isolation that leads to loneliness,” Walker said.

Whether it’s saying a prayer for a loved one, dropping off groceries, picking up their prescriptions or simply checking in, Walker said it’s so important now to connect and remember that we’re not alone.

“We recognize that these measures cannot begin to replace real, face-to-face communication with one another, especially at a time such as this," he said. "However, we know that when we are all so desperately in need of spiritual support from one another; that we might continue to bear one another’s burdens in prayer and presence, we must try to continue to be the church."