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Colorado's Faith Communities Adapt to Coronavirus

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David Skinner / CC BY 2.0

Right now, holidays, religious or otherwise, are being celebrated differently because of the state’s stay at home order and concerns over people gathering. Today, on the eve of Ramadan, we’re going to dig into how religious organizations are adapting the way they practice during the pandemic.  

Reverend Amanda Henderson, the executive director of the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado joined Colorado Edition to talk about how religious organizations are adapting the way they practice during COVID-19.

Interview Highlights:

These interview highlights have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Erin O’Toole: What is the role of faith leaders and religion during times of uncertainty?

Rev. Amanda Henderson: During times of emergency, people call upon their faith to understand the existential questions that come up when we are struggling and suffering and facing unprecedented challenges.

People are reaching out to their faith communities to provide guidance and assurance and grounding, as well as to reach out into the greater community. People know this is a time when those most vulnerable are really struggling. People learn from their faith to be able to serve and support the community around them.

For many, religious gatherings provide an important piece of mental stability and community. How are religious organizations balancing these needs with the need to be physically distant at this time?

That’s what is so unique about this situation. The many times that we deal with crisis or tragedy in our community, our response is to gather physically, to hold and hug one another, and to be together. This time we can’t do that. We’re having to get creative and assure that we’re able to stay connected, to reach out even when we can’t be physically together.

Our faith communities have been finding really creative ways to use technology - Zoom or Facebook Live or group gatherings online - to be able to connect with one another. They are even just picking up the phone and calling older folks who might be isolated and alone. We’re also seeing some beautiful ways that people are using music on Zoom to bring connection and life.

We just passed Easter and Passover, and now Ramadan is quickly approaching. What advice or guidance do you have for celebrating Ramadan this year?

We are working closely with the Muslim community in Colorado. They have been building out an online system to be able to share prayers – prayers are always important in Islam and especially during Ramadan.

There are also online iftars, which is the meal that happen at sunset, after a day of fasting in the Muslim community. We are working with our friends in the Muslim community to get the word out about those online prayers and online iftars that will be happening during the month of Ramadan.

During holy days gathering in person is such an important part of the ritual and the tradition and the way of staying connected to one another and to god. This is just calling upon us to remember that for people from multiple faith backgrounds, God is bigger than any space or place. These rituals are important and there are different ways we can live them and still stay connected.

When the stay-at-home order lifts, will it be safe for individuals to go to religious gatherings again? How is the Interfaith Alliance guiding the state and religious organizations about the transition out of the stay-at-home order?

This is the question of the hour. We all want to know what happens next. The Interfaith Alliance of Colorado and the governor’s clergy council are working closely with the governor’s office and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to make a transition plan for how we start gathering again. We don’t have those answers yet.

Right now, we’re waiting for guidance we’ll get from officials on what is needed so we can gather while keeping our people and our communities safe. I expect it will be a slow return. I’m assuming that masks and social distancing practices are going to be part of our life for a while, even as we start trying to be together in different ways.

A lot of people are looking for hope at a time like this. Is there something in particular that is giving you hope during this time?

The season really helps - the days when we see the grass growing and the spring coming. This is a season of hope, when we feel life in the midst of death. We see that the seasons come and the seasons go.

I feel hope knowing that people have gone before us who have dealt with great obstacles and have found that those obstacles make us stronger. I think it’s an opportunity to practice resilience.

This is also an opportunity to see things that we might not have seen before, like how our systems and structures aren’t working for everyone. I feel hope that we might be able to learn, that we might be able to build stronger communities for the future. That we might get closer.

I know from my own children – I have 3 teenagers – as hard as this is, I feel hopeful that this is making them stronger and giving them life experiences that will help them to overcome any obstacle that comes in the future. That’s who we are as people. We deal with things, and we get strong. We keep going and growing and connecting to one another. That’s what gives me hope.

This conversation is part of KUNC’s Colorado Edition for April 22nd. You can find the full episode here .

Since this conversation was recorded, Gov. Jared Polis announced he would lift the state's stay-at-home order on April 27th, and move Colorado into a "safer at home" period.

According to Reverend Henderson, how religious groups practice during this new phase will be similar to how they have been practicing under the state's stay-at-home order. Gatherings of over 10 people should not occur, so faith groups should continue to "focus on virtual gatherings."

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