Federal and local governments are pushing to reopen the economy in the face of continued devastation caused by COVID-19. Currently, counties and cities have enacted a patchwork of different guidelines and regulations to combat the spread of the virus. How do religious leaders and congregations consider the move to reopen, especially given the need to maintain safety amongst congregants? Rabbi Rory Katz of Chevrei Tzedek joined ICJS’ weekly Congregational Leaders’ call on May 28 to discuss the role of religious freedoms and values in determining if and when religious spaces should begin to reopen.
Katz focused the discussion primarily around the dichotomy between what is ‘legal’ and what is ‘right’ when struggling over the decision to reopen religious institutions. The question is whether reopening is in line with religious values and community responsibilities. According to Katz, caring for the vulnerable is an interfaith value worth considering when thinking of reopening. Is there not a moral obligation to our neighbors and those more susceptible to this virus to maintain current precautions?
Katz has found it important to have “a unified clergy-led voice saying we want our common value of love and care for our neighbors to be one of the guiding forces in deciding whether or not we decide to reopen our institutions.” To this end, she has been working with other local religious leaders to draft a multifaith response to the reopening of in-person worship in Maryland. Local clergy and religious leaders can read and sign-on to this document if it aligns with their particular beliefs and practices.
“A role of faith communities is to allow space for mystery and the unknown, understanding that there is a lot about this virus that we still don’t know,” Katz said. “There is so much pressure for there to be decisions already about this, and I feel that faith communities are some of the places best set to name and acknowledge how little we know and to work with it as best as we can.”
“The need for religious voice and the need for religious space in order for people to get in touch with God, with their sense of divinity is so, so needed right now. Our challenge is to figure out how to do that,” added Katz.
“This gives us an opportunity to operate outside the box and do new and different things to connect with our communities,” added the Rev. Marlon B. Tilghman of Ames United Methodist Church in Bel Air. “I don’t think I’ve been able to connect with my congregation on a more intimate level than now, because I was always running to this meeting and that meeting. We should take this opportunity to connect in different and more vibrant ways.”