April 17, 2020
Speaking to fellow religious leaders from various traditions on ICJS’ weekly “Congregational Creativity in a Time of Crisis” zoom meeting, Rabbi Charles Arian of Kehilat Shalom in Gaithersburg, Md. (and former ICJS Jewish Scholar) shared his recent experience conducting a virtual funeral.
Two weeks ago – ahead of Passover, Holy Week, and the upcoming Ramadan fast – religious leaders who joined the call explored ways to help people find ritual and meaning in the absence of embodied worship. This week’s topic looked at the kinds of adjustments religious leaders are needing to consider even for rituals surrounding regular life events.
While Arian is very technologically savvy and has been teaching on Zoom for a couple of years, conducting adult learning simultaneously in person and online, he found the funeral presented some unique challenges. To this end, he offered the following learnings:
Even as other religious leaders on the call were preparing for their first funeral in this COVID-19 world, the logistical and pastoral-care concerns around holding a phone and managing audio/video at a gravesite particularly hit home. Not having been a typical concern around funerals in the past, even the most practiced officiants are having to anticipate new technological and emotional hurdles in this era.
The idea of guidance from religious hierarchies and professional associations also was particularly prescient, as leaders on the call generally acknowledged the lack of such guidance from bodies within their traditions. One priest noted that the resources and guidance received had really all focused around Holy Week and Easter, but not beyond.
To that end, it was expressed by one Episcopal rector preparing for her first funeral that the ministry of presence would be first-and-foremost as she gave herself “huge permission” to figure out the rest in the absence of formal guidance.
Looking for such guidance right now throws into sharp relief patterns of authority — who determines best practices and whether those are suggestions or mandates — and how that plays out in different traditions with different structures. Across-the-board, however, religious leaders on the call described the experience of having to create a lot of things from scratch, working harder than ever while being in even higher demand.
Finally, Arian noted that, “while it is too early to think about opening things back up, it is not too early to think about what it will look like when we do re-open.” Even as we are erecting new practices and ways of being with one another, it is important to consider what practices we may want or need to keep in the mid-to-long term.
The next ICJS-hosted congregational leaders’ call will discuss how congregations are building internal support infrastructures to care for vulnerable members. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to request an invitation to join the conversation Thursday, April 23, at 1:00 p.m.