“It’s Not Doctrine, This Is Just How It Is Happening!”: Religious Creativity in the Time of COVID-19
Religion, Change and COVID-19
2. Materials and Methods
3.1. Moving Online
“You know, you’ll phone someone up and you’ll say, click on the link. And she doesn’t know what a link is. So, you know, you’re going right back to sort of basic things, which the young people are just completely conversed with!”
“Use the technology to stay in touch, but don’t forget your humanity. Don’t forget your connection to the seasons, to God’s creation, you know, get away from your screens, be with your family, be with your spouses.”
“I think we have always felt in competition with each other, whether that’s internally as Jewish denominations, even if that’s even more intently between one liberal congregation and another, and suddenly we’re in this challenge of there being so much and no affiliation in the sense of I have to go to my synagogue service or even a Jewish service. I can attend a Christian Easter service, or I can go and watch what the mosque is putting on in a discussion...How do you maintain a sense of identity in such a market place? And it is a marketplace!”
“A friend of mine, who’s a parish priest in a Catholic parish in London has seen his congregation multiplied by 300%. He’s got three times more people, as it were, coming to church on a Sunday, and certainly over the Holy Week liturgies, than he would ever normally expect and that he would ever physically be able to fit into his church.”
“I was actually invited to give a lesson in Italy about a week ago. And I’ve been contacted by some people from India in Kerala, where they want me to do a series of lectures… and they’re going to have hundreds of people on there. So, I think it’s sort of brought us closer. This whole concept of a global village is becoming a reality now, to be honest!”
“Ceremonies that people would expect to go to a temple for are now all online; Darshan (to go and see the deity) are all online from 4:30 in the morning, till 9 in the evening. In India, originally they closed down all the temples and then began to open them up again, not for congregation, but for this facility, so that people could have access on a daily basis, an hourly basis, to ceremonies in the temple that were performed on a very small scale; or even just seeing the forms of the deity which just brings comfort to everyone.”
3.2. Finding Creativity Amidst Emerging Technologies
“The biggest impact has been a sudden emergence of creativity in all of our communities. Whether they’re large or small, they have really put so much thought and energy into how to adapt and create new rituals, new practices, new ways of connecting with their communities. And that’s a challenge.”
“I just think it’s difficult to meet the needs of people and certain people because of the lack of ability to meet with anybody face to face. I mean, I think that is really hurting our opportunities to minister”.
“Whereas in the past there’s been more of a sort of professional sort of, you know, “bless you” kind of ending to an email, I’m now putting “with love” because it’s important now because I can’t show that [love] in other ways that I might normally do, like with a touch on the shoulder or a being next to someone and exchanging a glance.”
“You were remembering what you did in the past, looking at social media and the photos that people have posted. One of the things in the West Midlands they did was a virtual Vaisakhi, where people were posting on social media pictures of them in their saffron coloured clothes and blue and everything…The celebration was still happening, but it was in a different format”.
“How does the practice of the Orthodox ritual work? Because people can’t take the body and the blood of Christ sitting at home.”
“The Eucharist, which is central to certainly the way in which I practice Christianity is, if it’s a physical thing, there’s no getting around it. You know, I have to give you a piece of bread and you can’t! Whatever you can do on Zoom, you can’t do that on Zoom. So, you have to sort of spiritualize the community, but in actual fact, you know, we long for that time that we could, we can come back together again and become the body of Christ, around the table. Christianity, in particular, is an incarnational religion. It’s a religion of physicality and there are, you know, this digital, your digital presence here, to me, it is not like the real thing, and it can’t ever be”.
3.3. A Home Theology
“What do I need here to make this more of a sacred space that people immediately recognize as a sacred space, rather than just my bookshelf? So, I had to put my cross in a place… And then I bring a candle in, and you have to position that right”.
“I think we are beginning to understand what it might be as Christians to bring faith into our homes in a way that we might’ve been a bit, I don’t know, awkward about. For instance, I’ve never said grace before something. We’ve never done that in our house until COVID-19”.
“Help us strengthen the more domestic understanding of the church, something that, for example, the Chief Rabbi has spoken quite eloquently about. The understanding that the home is a holy place, a place of God.”
“I think we have a great debt in Christianity to Judaism for this connection between altar and table and the connection between home and sacred space. And I think it is one very interesting thing that’s been happening in the lives of our parishioners and people that I know is that the home is becoming more of a place of sacred worship of holiness, of teaching, of all of these types of things. I mean, I’ve experienced this in our own family. And so, I think that rebalancing… Don’t get me wrong, I still desperately miss the sacred space of the church. And I think there is something powerful in that, but I think what we see in ancient Israel is that balance between the sacredness of the home and the sacredness of the sanctuary or the temple space”.
“I’ve sensed my mum’s gain in all of this...I think a much bigger sense of family, because these important moments of prayer are now done as a family, rather than as you know, my dad going off praying somewhere else and my mum having to pray somewhere else.”
“When we first realized the mosques were going to close, I couldn’t resist putting on my own social media: ‘Maybe we as women tell the men in our families, there isn’t enough space for them to pray in the home and see what the reaction is’. I didn’t want to belittle what is a very serious situation, but I just wanted people to think about it in a way that maybe they hadn’t up to now, particularly men who are used to just going into the mosque during the prayers, coming home and never really having to think about what the situation may be for others… I think each family is different, but I think there’s definitely an opportunity maybe for people to think about family prayers, where people worship and do things together.”
“People are spending a lot more time in their family spaces, a lot more time meditating and chanting and time together as a family doing that, which is very interesting because a lot of them have commented that modern life, whatever that is, has taken us away from family observance in the home. So, a lot of reports about people spending more time together, worshiping together, praying together, chanting together, which is very interesting. As I say, it’s not doctrine, this is just how it is happening.”
“This very difficult business about clergy not being allowed into their churches, that really strikes as a sort of Catholic/Protestant type of divide, where those on a certain Protestant end of the scale, who think churches are nothing more than glorified rain shelters, really. And so, you know, you can practice your faith. It doesn’t matter. Whereas Catholics have a richer sense of the sort of theology of place, the importance of place. And I would be in that tradition, and I very much miss that. You know, that church-based exercise of my ministry”.
3.4. Between Human and Divine Presence
“Technology is not the same as real human contact. It is lacking a very fundamental element that human beings require to be in the company of others and to work together with others.”
“It’s only when you are deprived of something, you begin to value it. And I think as we have been deprived of that physical contact, shaking hands, hugging, touching… where human warmth is really felt, and human presence is really noticed. I’m beginning to miss that now. And when we come out of this, I think we will see how valuable that experience of being next to somebody, being near to somebody… you know, the touch, the smell, the sounds…they’re a really important part of our humanity.”
“The physicality of the relationship is vital. And as a Christian, of course, we have that deep stream of sacramental theology that says: stuff matters. You know, people present bread, wine, oil, water, fire, those things are ways in which God reaches us.”
“At the heart of faith is the sense of the presence of God… I think one of the things that we’re seeing is that all of this is, in a way, speaking into the cultural need, the social need, the community need, human need in the midst of all of this chaos and crisis to have a word that says there is One who loves us, cares for us and is present with us.”
“God is presence. So, he’s not absent and he’s suffering with those who suffer, and possibly this is a way to maybe push theology even further, that God is learning again, how to be with his people in a time of trouble.”
“And you know, somebody said to me just today that we just have to keep on praying and hope that God will step in and say enough. And the cynical side of me said, well, he didn’t step in during 300 years of the transatlantic slave trade. So, I’m not quite sure what incentive he would have for stepping in now. So, there’s that bit of me saying where is God? Where is God?”
“The way that they’ve been doing the funerals has been driving [the hearse] through the community. When people come out onto their doorsteps to offer their last respects and there’s a video going behind [the hearse], it’s strangely gripping. You would think there’s nothing to see, but I sat there for a good half an hour, just watching this column weaving its way through the community.”
“And so, one of the things that I saw, which I thought was beautiful, was that an amazing community guy from West Yorkshire passed away not so long ago. And the way they dealt with him was that as they drove the [hearse] to the graveyard, they drove through all the local streets. And people just came out onto the road. Everybody was socially distancing, but just came out to the front of their garden and just stood in silence. And it was a really, really moving moment of being allowed to pay your respects.”
“People are looking to their faith communities, to their faith tradition, but also to themselves to ask, what can I hold onto here, that’s going to give me meaning? Can you give me a sense of connection and give me strength?”
“There is this remarkable digital community now, which is making us feel that we do belong together. We’re doing things together. And if I can be a bit mystical about it, it’s the Christian people throughout the world and those who rejoice with us…the whole sort of communion of Christians on earth and heaven, united in this invisible kind of way.”
“What I’ve very much been struck by is that friends of mine, from my days as Bishop of Leicester from the Sikh and Hindu and Muslim community who have been in touch asking me how I am and how I’m getting on. And we’ve corresponded about that. This is a shared experience that transcends faith boundaries.”
Institutional Review Board Statement
Informed Consent Statement
Conflicts of Interest
Many of these interviews were part of the Woolf Institute Covid-19 Chronicles series, which are available online: https://www.woolf.cam.ac.uk/videos/series/covid-19-chronicles (accessed on 1 September 2021).
The GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) is a new data protection and privacy regulation in EU law. This set of guidelines (enforced since 2018) propagated new systems for data collection and privacy protection within many institutions as well as religious initiatives, who were struggling to implement these guidelines before and after the pandemic outbreak and the quick shift online.
For example, see: https://premierchristian.news/en/news/article/why-i-ve-decided-to-break-the-law-and-open-my-church-during-lockdown. And, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london55764673#:~:text=Police%20broke%20up%20a%20wedding,about%20150%20people%20had%20gathered.&text=Guests%20fled%20from%20the%20strictly,fine%20for%20breaking%20lockdown%20rules (accessed on 1 June 2021).
While many religious leaders referred to the gendered challenges of religious life for their congregants, most did not refer to their own. In addition, during our analysis we did not find different coping criteria for male and female religious leaders.
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Taragin-Zeller, L.; Kessler, E. “It’s Not Doctrine, This Is Just How It Is Happening!”: Religious Creativity in the Time of COVID-19. Religions 2021, 12, 747. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12090747
Taragin-Zeller L, Kessler E. “It’s Not Doctrine, This Is Just How It Is Happening!”: Religious Creativity in the Time of COVID-19. Religions. 2021; 12(9):747. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12090747Chicago/Turabian Style
Taragin-Zeller, Lea, and Edward Kessler. 2021. "“It’s Not Doctrine, This Is Just How It Is Happening!”: Religious Creativity in the Time of COVID-19" Religions 12, no. 9: 747. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12090747