As a pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church, the Rev. Dr. Twining F. Campbell misses the terrible jokes he used to exchange with parishioners.
“You miss all of it,” Twining said. “There was a man in our church who died at the end of May. Every week he would come out and he would have some terrible joke. I had to come up with a terrible joke and then we would laugh about it… You miss all of that. The friendship, the fellowship.”
Now standing alone, preaching to an empty church that could seat 600 people, Campbell and other places of worship across the state must now learn how to provide support for their parishioners throughout this pandemic.
After a brief reopening, these beautiful and ornate places of worship have now reverted to closing their doors, like Campbell who now records his services alongside his wife. The Rev. Dr. Martha M. Campbell. Others lucky enough to have outdoor space adapted to allow some of their community to gather in gardens, parking lots or yards.
Built in 1927, drawing influences from the Basilica of Santa Sabina and Romanesque architecture, St. Andrew Church stands an architectural masterpiece, garnering a place in the National Register of Historic Places. Normally able to seat about 700 people, the church now can only hold at most 60 people outside as the sanctity of the services are sometimes interrupted by passing cars.
“We can accommodate maybe 50 or 60 people. We can’t have masses outdoors in the middle of the day because the heat is prohibitive,” said Father Marcos Gonzalez.
In addition to the heat, the outdoors forces the pastors to compete with the sounds of the world around them.
“It’s very disorienting because we’re outside. We have the freeway noise. We have the noise of the traffic. We have the noise of the birds in the piazza. The formality is not there,” said Gonzalez. “We’re doing the best we can to make sure that we make the sacraments available to our people.”
With the limited number of attendees, Gonzalez and the church try to provide support to those who cannot attend by reaching out to their parishioners.
“I maintain contact with the parishioners by sending out every single week, which we never did before,” said Gonzalez. “We call them on a regular basis. They [can] access our website, which is maintained up to date all the time. It’s all online stuff and on the telephone.”
In addition to letters and phone calls, Gonzalez and the church make house calls, primarily for those who are sick, visiting them and comforting them. They also provide some services such as confessions, funerals and weddings outdoors with smaller crowds.
“Nothing, nothing even close to this has ever happened to any of our lifetimes — this is completely different for everybody,” said Gonzalez. “The church has never really been shut down like this ever, other than during wars.”
Just like with wars, people fear the future and many houses of worship try to help their communities stay together and connected to help them persevere.
“People are scared. People are afraid,” said Abo-Ahmed, the chairman of the Islamic Center in Glendale. “They see the statistics and they do not come in to worship, but we cannot stop the worship of our Lord. This is the time that we got to turn to our Lord, the creator of humanity and the entire universe… to have him lift the calamity from the entire humanity not just Muslims.”
Ahmed sees the decrease in the attendance as though his family has been shrinking and believes many don’t feel the same support they once had pre-pandemic. The mosque usually has around 200 attendees but now the number has been cut by more than half with many staying at home fearing the virus. The mosque still holds services over livestreams and other videos.
“The kindness of people is still there,” Ahmed said.
While his community has been relegated to their homes Ahmed, believes it is for the best for not only Muslims but for the whole world.
“Let’s help each other, put our hands in each others hand and let us try to sail this ocean of many issues that involves all of us — no matter how different we are,” said Ahmed. “We are human beings. We are from Adam and Eve. We are one family, a human family. Humanity should cooperate with each other and help each other greatly.”