Churchgoers Practice Digital Faith during COVID-19

Lauren Jones Data News Weekly Contributor

Could watching your faith leader over a livestream, while sitting at your desk or couch, really create the same feeling as praying together with your friends and family in your church’s sanctuary? In the world’s current pandemic, churches are also learning to adjust their operations to satisfy new social distancing requirements.

While many organizations adjust to staying connected, New Orleans-based churchgoers and leaders said they are keeping open-minded about having church in a digital age.

“Positivity is key,” said Bishop Darryl S. Brister, the Senior Pastor of the Beacon Light International Baptist Cathedral in Gentilly.
“We’re not able to embrace people the way we used to, but we can engage [congregants] by meeting them right where they are,” Brister said. “We’re adjusting to our new normal by following the trends of the world,” Brister added.

To comply with social distancing measures encouraged by Mayor LaToya Cantrell, Brister said that Beacon Light’s staff are producing performances and sermons to be broadcast on platforms like Facebook and YouTube.

Physical closeness, once a source of spiritual solidarity, now comes with a high risk of spreading infection. And older congregants, the heartbeat of the American church, are more at risk for serious complications and death from COVID-19, Brister noted. For this reason, Beacon Light on Mirabeau Avenue, like many other churches in the city, have temporarily shut their doors to the public since March 2020.

“It is an act of faith to adhere to social distancing and public health guidance,” Brister said of the importance of churches to preserve the lives of their community members, particularly those who are most vulnerable.

The challenges residents are facing because of the coronavirus means more people than ever are turning towards their faith. Local ministers said that they have had strong attendance for their streamed sermons, prayers, and worship services with consistency that shows their members they are not alone during these uncertain times.

“Our social platforms have given us the ability to touch the whole world,” said Larry Jones, the Membership Pastor at Beacon Light, on the success of online streaming for churches. “We’re able to see almost 10 times the amount [of congregants] we were seeing in our church services…we’re now serving over 10,000 people on any given Sunday,” Jones said.

Churchgoers said the pandemic has taught them how to practice their faith remotely.

“God is everywhere,” said Connie Holmes, a 20-year attendee of Beacon Light. “When we’re all in one room, it’s easier to feel like we’re with [God]. But I think we must erase the idea that we all have to physically be in one place to experience His presence,” Holmes said.

Photo 1: Courtesy of Vernon Byrd (Beacon Light employee)
Bishop Darryl Brister stands at the alter after preaching to an empty sanctuary on Sunday, May 3rd. The sermon was broadcasted live on numerous social media platforms which allowed congregants to hear the message from home.

Photo 2: The Beacon Light International Baptist Cathedral parking lot, located on the corner of St. Anthony Street and Mirabeau Avenue, is packed with cars on any given Sunday. But on Sunday, May 3rd, it was completely unoccupied due to social distancing efforts and the closure of the cathedral to the public.

Connie Holmes is a 20-year member of Beacon Light and like most churchgoers is adapting to online services.

Larry Jones is the Membership Pastor at Beacon Light and is working to keep members connected over social media platforms.

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