Pandemic disrupts rites of passage for many devout families
NEW YORK — For many religious families across the United States, the coronavirus has disrupted their most anticipated traditions – the rites of passage that mark their adolescent children’s full entry into their congregations.
With most houses of worship halting large in-person services due to the outbreak, some bar and bat mitzvahs have been conducted via Zoom rather than before a throng of well-wishers at the families’ synagogue. Many confirmation ceremonies at Christian churches have been postponed until fall, at least one was held on Zoom, and an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America congregation near Chicago will hold its confirmation service in the church parking lot.
Sharon Rogers, associate pastor at Light of Christ Lutheran Church in Algonquin, Illinois, said 23 children – mostly 13-year-olds – are expected to be confirmed in the parking lot on June 13. Each family will be allowed to bring three vehicles, parking in every other space.
The children, accompanied by their parents and baptismal sponsors, will emerge one group at a time from their cars to approach the two presiding pastors, who will forgo the traditional act of laying hands on the children.
“The church is not a building, the church is people,” said Rogers, explaining why parents had embraced the idea of an outdoor service.
“For me as a dad, it’s different, but we’re happy about it, rather than cancelling or delaying it,” said Leon Redobos, whose 14-year-old daughter Lindsay will be confirmed.
“This rite of passage — it’s really between my daughter and God,” he said. “We just need a place where we can be surrounded by people who love you and want to support your faith.”
Each confirmand has selected a Bible verse to guide their life. Redobos said Lindsay had chosen Luke 1:37: “For with God, nothing shall be impossible.”
A neighbouring ELCA church — St. Barnabas in Cary, Illinois — held classes for its eight confirmation students over Zoom. A First Communion service will be held via Zoom June 7, but Pastor Sarah Wilson said the full-scale confirmation service is now scheduled for Oct. 31
Wilson found it challenging to lead the online class sessions.
“It was hard for kids to learn how to use Zoom, then they learned how to use it really well,” she said. “I think some of them were gaming during class.”
Two United Methodist congregations in Bismarck, North Dakota, approached confirmation in different ways.
Rev. Jenny Hallenbeck Orr, who serves McCabe United Methodist Church, decided to postpone the ceremony until later in the summer, or in the fall. Legacy UMC held the first part of confirmation in a Zoom call with more than 70 participants . Rev. Brandon Vetter, Legacy’s lead pastor, said a follow-up in-person ceremony was planned for later.
In Encino, California, where Valley Beth Shalom normally celebrates several bar mitzvahs a month, Rabbi Noah Farkas says there have been various responses from families unable to hold ceremonies in the synagogue.