COVID-19 puts religious gatherings on hold indefinitely


The Rev. Louis Golamari from St. Jude the Apostle parish, Oshkosh, livestreams Mass on April 1. The Catholic church is livestreaming the weekend Mass each Saturday at 4:30 pm, and daily Mass at 7:30 am on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Masses are also available to watch later on their YouTube channel.

Carter Uslabar, Editor in Chief

As the novel coronavirus’ impact is felt by schools and businesses, places of worship in the Fox Cities are also being forced to adapt after Gov. Tony Evers’ Safer at Home order.

Many places of worship switched to streaming services after the March 17 ban on gatherings of 10 or more, allowing congregants to still participate in their practice, despite being unable to gather as a congregation.

The abrupt arrival of coronavirus-related orders in Wisconsin has forced religious gatherings to be put on hold indefinitely.

“It’s had a massive impact,” said Jerry Zambronski, president of the Moses Montefiore Synagogue in Appleton. “We decided that we were going to close the building and have no further face-to-face meetings or services, and go 100% online.”

After a briefing from the Appleton Health Department, Zambronski and Melanie Roselaar, the religious school principal at Moses Montefiore, called an emergency meeting of the synagogue’s leadership team. By the time they held the meeting, the coronavirus situation had gotten even worse.

“We’re not sugarcoating this; we’re strongly encouraging people that everybody needs to do their part,” he said. “It’s not just about protecting yourself; it’s about stopping community spread.”

St. Raphael the Archangel Catholic Church in Oshkosh has also transitioned to an online format. The church had already established radio-broadcast Mass, making them slightly more prepared for the restrictions on in-person gatherings, but they too are adapting.

“As Catholics, it’s a very big thing that we need to come to Mass every Sunday,” the Rev. Tom Long of St. Raphael’s said. “Not being able to do that is a huge change in our lives, yet we realize that we need to make that sacrifice for the sake of the health of the people who are sick and for the health of our health care workers.”

Dave Barber, a pastor at RiverValley Church on High Avenue in Oshkosh, said they are essentially holding “e-church.”

Aside from adapting their worship services, places of worship have also been reaching out to their communities and congregants to offer assistance where they can.

Zambronski said that the Moses Montefiore Congregation has a “caring committee” that reaches out to shut-ins to offer help with tasks like shopping.

Long said his congregation at St. Raphael’s is reaching out as well, having contacted all congregants aged 80 or above, to see if they need help of any kind.

At RiverValley, Barber said they’ve been keeping in touch with their congregation as well, especially with congregants who may have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus and other at-risk groups.

With no sign of restrictions on group gatherings being let up anytime soon, the congregations at RiverValley and St. Raphael’s will be unable to have their typical Easter celebrations.

“It will be very hard during Holy Week and Easter without people being able to come for the services,” Long said. “We’re really going to need to find ways to include people and help them pray during that week in particular, and we’re still working on how best to do that.”

Barber said that while it’s sad that his congregation at RiverValley won’t be able to meet for Easter, it’s for a good reason.

“We’re part of a community,” Barber said. “We need to do what’s best for our whole community and right now that’s to not have a lot of contact.”

Regardless of their religion, places of worship throughout the Fox Cities are adapting to the same pandemic and face the same challenges in staying connected with their communities and congregations.

“I think it’s really important at this moment for all of us to take care of our community as best we can,” Barber said.  “Right now the best thing we can do is to not be together.”