Salem religious leaders aim to boost morale and assuage omicron concerns through worship
After nearly two years of challenges for places of worship, some religious leaders in Salem are once again looking for unique approaches to holding services, this time in response to omicron-induced anxiety among worshipers.
The historic Oak Grove Church in West Salem at sunset. Some churches and congregations in the region are again changing their worship services in response to the surge in omicron. (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)
Brian Craker said he has seen his congregation at Salem First Presbyterian Church have more anxiety about Covid in the past two weeks than they have shown throughout the pandemic.
As a church pastor, he said, this concerned him.
“I think if I see this in my congregation and among my family and friends, I have to believe that something the community is struggling with,” Craker said. “We had a feeling of optimism that we could get out of this, and omicron hit us so hard it really scared us into a place of great anxiety.”
Covid has hovered over local congregations since the pandemic first hit Oregon. Most places of worship in Salem were temporarily closed in mid-March 2020 as Governor Kate Brown imposed restrictions on social gatherings, and religious leaders had to get creative, with some holding virtual services or even outside.
Many congregations have since settled into a “hybrid” model offering both in-person and virtual services. Now, with the rise of omicron spreading rapidly across the state, some religious leaders are looking for ways to lift people’s spirits through worship.
Craker said he will focus his upcoming Sunday sermon on the end of Matthew chapter 6 and what Jesus’ words “Don’t worry” mean during a pandemic as people feel they are losing control of things.
He has also made it a point to reach out to congregants whom he knows are struggling with illness, isolation or being separated from their families, and to continue to offer time to talk. He said he encourages them to recognize the anxiety in themselves and help others through theirs.
“It’s a huge recognition that if we’re together and people don’t feel alone, then they feel like they have greater strength to be able to get through this pandemic,” he said.
Craker said his followers were worried in part because for the first time during the pandemic, a significant number of them recently contracted Covid despite wearing masks and avoiding contact with people. He said some members are worried about what will happen if they contract it because they already have other health issues, and many are tired after nearly two years in and out of the waves of Covid.
“When we feel out of control, our anxiety skyrockets. And this omicron variant has really made people feel out of control,” he said.
On Jan. 5, Craker emailed members of his church to say that all worship services, meetings, and adult discipleship classes would be online-only for the rest of the month due to the recent omicron push. .
“The majority of our congregation would much rather be in person, as we yearn and yearn for that personal contact that we have really missed, especially during times of isolation,” he said. “But at the same time, we recognize that there are some in our congregation who have health issues, or our caretakers are involved in healthcare or essential services, and it’s not right to put them at risk. .
Virtual service is also offered at Salem First Church of the Nazarene on its website and Facebook page in addition to their in-person service, church administrator Bertie Miller said.
“We have a lot of seniors in our congregation, and some of them are not entirely comfortable coming to attend a service,” she said. “The pastor always greets those in the physical church and on the balcony and those at home watching online.”
Jerry Miranda, pastor of Tabernaculo de Salem, said the pandemic had been “a boom” for his church, with many new people attending and “seeking that comfort”, he said. “Regardless of your life, they all have problems. But they’d rather have trouble with God on my side than have trouble without God on my side, and that’s what I preach.
Temple Beth Sholom, a synagogue in Salem, offers both in-person and virtual services, but has stopped serving food in light of the omicron surge.
Rabbi Eli Herb said the vast majority of their members are vaccinated and those who have recently tested positive for Covid have had mild symptoms.
Herb said most of his sermons are currently about boosting morale, staying committed to spreading joy and kindness in the community, and maintaining relationships.
“Everyone, I think, is feeling a bit down at this point,” he said. “I’ve made it a point to tell a lot of jokes lately, just to make people laugh. And we’re still doing the same work that we always do, trying to do our spiritual practices, but really doing them in the context of something that is so powerful and so immediate and present as Covid is right now.
Contact journalist Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.
JUST THE FACTS, FOR SALE – We report on your community with care and depth, fairness and accuracy. Receive local news that matters to you. Subscribe to Salem Reporter from $5 per month. Click on I want to subscribe!