Jasmine “Jazzy” Bostock began Sunday as she normally would: leading an early morning worship service for parishioners at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, a multi-generational church in downtown Honolulu.
But Sunday was different. Instead of speaking to a sea of faces inside St. Peter’s historic sanctuary, Bostock was inside her home, her laptop perched on her kitchen table as she spoke into the camera and delivered a sermon to members — virtually.
“It was a little bizarre to be setting up for worship in my home and hoping my neighbor’s dog wouldn’t bark as I was video recording,” Bostock, a curate at the church, said with a chuckle. “It’s definitely an adjustment.”
Based on a 2015 “Religious Landscape Study” in the U.S. by the Pew Research Center, 63% of people in Hawaii identified as Christian, 8% as Buddhist and 26% as unaffiliated, including agnostic or atheist.
During this time of strict shelter-in-place orders and social distancing due to the coronavirus, organized religious gatherings can no longer take place as they usually would — in churches or synagogues where people might sit elbow to elbow.
But the inability to be in close physical proximity with one another has not stopped the flow of spiritual connectivity across Hawaii, as religious leaders bring their preaching online and members connect via platforms like Zoom, where they see one another, chat with each other or send over a slice of virtual cake to celebrate a birthday.
Many places of worship here are taking their services online, either through pre-recorded sermons sent to members via a YouTube link or real-time services held over Facebook or Zoom to recreate a sense of community, even if just through a computer screen.
Sure, there are technical adjustments to work through — like getting everyone to use the “Mute” button. And for older members, the technological learning curve can be steep.
The number of people attending services seems to be growing since they’ve moved online.
New Hope Oahu, a chartered mega-church of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel started by Wayne Cordeiro, moved to an all-virtual format on March 18. Typical virtual attendance is 4,500 but that skyrocketed to 22,000 last weekend, according to Executive Pastor John Tilton.
“Through other worldwide crises, or local, people have turned to faith but nothing of this magnitude in our history of the church,” Tilton said. “Everyone is concerned about health, finances and employment. We try our best to give them hope.”
Bostock’s 8 a.m. livestream service on Sunday also had increased attendance.
The service toggled between her home and that of St. Peter’s director of music, Joseph Eppink, who provided musical accompaniment during the songs portion. About 330 viewers tuned in, she said. Average in-person attendance at St. Peter’s is about 50 to 60 people for both the 7:30 a.m. and 10 a.m. services.
Bostock said it has been heartening to see people working hard to come together as they all adapt during this time of having to be physically apart.
“I’ve been moved by how all the churches are offering their own spin to gather virtually,” she said. “The sense that they’re still gathering and still there for one another is so powerful to witness.”
The reverend said continuing to hold weekly services, even online, is important to keep up a sense of routine, to remind members that “church is not canceled, but it’s going forward.”
“I think everybody is feeling a sense of isolation and loneliness. The power of community is stronger than ever before,” she said. “To have the gospel message of hope, I think, this is a particularly important time.”
Individual churches have followed guidance and instructions from parent entities.
The Episcopal Diocese of Hawaii, for instance, has ordered the suspension of all in-person worship and gatherings at churches through April 30.
The California-Pacific Conference, the regional body of The United Methodist Church which includes churches in Hawaii, has directed its members not to hold public worship services or have any church gatherings of more than 10 people, and that people stay 6 feet apart if any Bible studies are held.
And the Board of Trustees of Temple Emanu-El in Honolulu suspended all in-person gatherings as of March 16, but is recording and archiving all of its Shabbat and Torah Study services via website.
In Hawaii, the number of COVID-19 cases climbed to 175 on Sunday. The state and counties have also issued mandatory “stay and home, work from home” orders through April 30.
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