Observing Holidays Apart, Together

Dylan Novacek April 17, 2020

Written by Rev. Emily Goldthwaite Fries, Senior Congregational Organizer

Have you ever wished you could be in more than one place at once? This is a common feeling for Beacon’s organizers – especially now, we wish more than anything we could be together for one-to-one visits and gatherings large and small. We have all had a lot of adjusting to do as the stay-home order in Minnesota impacts everything we do, including how our congregations keep the comfort of tradition alive and make meaning in the time of COVID-19.

Over the weekend of April 11-13, I realized that with all our congregations streaming their services, I actually could be in many places as once. I tuned in to some of your services and felt the solidarity and kinship of our diverse faiths, all seeking to welcome members and visitors through online technology. In every one, there was acknowledgment of the pandemic and inspiration for living through these frightening times.

Temple Israel’s rabbis didn’t skip a beat in leading service from their own living rooms, with the faces of many members showing on their own screens. They shared stories of hope and home, to uplift members who had missed the tradition of observing Passover seders together with many family members and friends crowded around the table.

At St. Mary’s Greek Orthodox Church, celebrating Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week, priests chanted prayers from an empty sanctuary decorated with palms – including petitions for doctors, nurses, workers in hospitals, that all might be safe from the harm of the coronavirus. And at Wayman AME Church in North Minneapolis clergy and music leaders sang their hearts out on Easter Sunday, standing far apart from each other facing the camera. Rev. Coleman began his sermon giving thanks to God for the gift of life and the gift of time, music, and the word, the gifts of technology and expertise it takes for us to gather this way. “In the Spirit,” he smiled, “there’s no distance between you and me… we don’t want a single soul feeling isolated or left out.”

My own family worshiped at Edina Morningside Community United Church of Christ, with my brother and mother-in-law joining us from Oregon and Illinois. I wondered – in all these services I visited, were families actually worshiping together in ways they usually cannot across the distance?

Rev. Oby Ballinger confessed from his dining room table that a few weeks earlier, he had considered not holding Easter services – putting off the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection until we actually felt like celebrating. How could we celebrate among such suffering and grief? But, after all, wasn’t this just the way Jesus’ disciples were feeling when they saw and heard that death wasn’t the end of the story?

Father William Murtaugh at Christ the King Catholic Church in Southwest Minneapolis meditated on how the most precious thing we have is our love and relationships with one another. In times of crisis, people pull together, but this virus is asking us to separate. He closed his remarks with words familiar to his parishioners: “Forward together, and no one left behind.”

Indeed, this is the spirit across the collaborative, as well as within each unique faith community. Forward together, and no one left behind. While the ways we do our work must change, at least for now, our vision is as clear as ever – we will continue working toward the day when all people have a home, and no one is just a paycheck or health crisis away from homelessness.

From all of us at Beacon, we wish you a happy Passover, a blessed Holy Week and Easter, and blessed Ramadan, and good health in the days to come.

If your congregation would like a virtual visit from Beacon staff, we organizers are available to visit and share updates and Craig Freeman has adapted the usual tours of our buildings to a virtual “tour in a box” that can be presented anywhere. We’d love to “see” you at a meeting, a virtual iftar, a Bible study – anytime!
To learn more and set up a virtual tour, contact

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