Little is said in the media about the numerous religious institutions of faith from around the world who came together during this difficult time to assist their fellow man. However, scholars of law and religion at the Association of Academics of the Legal Regulation of the Religious Phenomenon started a research project known as DIRESOM, coordinated by Professor Pierluigi Consorti of the University of Pisa. They set up a website for collecting documents and brief comments about religion, law and the COVID-19 emergency.
“We have the capacity to use our minds to conquer anger and panic and greed” – The Dalai Lama
Here are some of the examples we have received from friends and members of the International Multi-Faith Coalition, showing the vital response from houses of worship around the world during this pandemic.
The Buddhist Churches of America cancelled services while the Dalai Lama expressed that there is a need to fight the crisis with compassion. The Buddhist spiritual leader emphasized "from the Buddhist perspective we have the capacity to use our minds to conquer anger and panic and greed." He stated, "The outbreak of this terrible coronavirus has shown that what happens to one person can soon affect every other being. But it also reminds us that a compassionate or constructive act – whether working in hospitals or just observing social distancing – has the potential to help many."
The Lutheran Disaster Response, the relief wing of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). They provided supplies to China right from the beginning of the pandemic. These included disinfection supplies, powered air-purifying respirators, face shields, gloves, coronavirus nucleic acid detection reagents, ventilators, patient monitors, syringe pumps, infusion pumps, and food to affected areas.
They also sent resources to Africa, where Allyson Bear said "widespread poverty and crowded urban slums put Africans at extreme risk." At Lutheran World Relief clinics in Nairobi people were educated on the importance of handwashing and protective equipment was repurposed to address the COVID-19 pandemic. They supported congregational feeding ministries to “do the critical work of providing those who are in need in their communities with food.” ELCA also sent food, medical and essential supply deliveries to New Orleans, Southern California, Italy, Palestine and Sierra Leone and working with the Lutheran World Foundation and the ACT Alliance.
The Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, which belongs to the Protestant Episcopal Diocese of New York, volunteered itself to be turned into a field hospital for coronavirus patients, which were cared for by Samaritan's Purse health workers, who have offered their services. It housed over two hundred patients with the ailment.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Anglican Consultative Council Chair and the Anglican Communion Secretary General wrote a joint letter to the Anglican Communion. The letter states, “In our prayers, in addition to praying for those who are ill, and for those who are lonely, we should pray for wisdom for those in authority and for strength to be given to medical workers. We should do more than pray. We should also act by heeding the advice of our respective national and regional authorities who are working to contain the virus; and, we should care for those who are unable to care for themselves.”
The Church of England released guidelines for churches as nations around the world gradually re-open. The House of Bishops mentioned the possibility of "very limited access to church buildings for activities such as streaming of services or private prayer by clergy in their own parishes, so long as the necessary hygiene and social distancing precautions are taken".
L. Jonathan Holston, bishop of the South Carolina Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church recommended that churches "proceed with worship services — providing increased vigilance regarding cleaning worship areas, providing hand-washing stations, and educating members about social distancing and other preventive measures."
Many Catholic churches have been ringing their church bells five times a day for the Liturgy of the Hours as a call to prayer amidst the coronavirus outbreak.
CAPTION: An American military chaplain prepares for a live-streamed service in an empty chapel at Offutt Air Force Base
With social distancing restricting public celebration of the Sacraments, many churches began looking to innovate. Some priests began offering drive-thru confessions. A parish in Quezon City announced an online general absolution via live stream but cancelled the event upon discovering that the priest who absolves and the penitent people receiving absolution must be physically in the same place. Similarly, the Archdiocese of Kansas City attempted to allow confessions to be heard via cell phone but ran into the same issue regarding absolution.
Catholic dioceses and religious institutes offered church facilities to accommodate healthcare operations and provide housing for the needy in the crisis and the Holy See implemented measures to protect its high-risk residents who were more susceptible to developing complications from COVID-19. Pope Francis asked the Church to welcome and provide refuge to the homeless amidst the pandemic.
The Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople issued a worldwide suspension of all "divine services, events, and rites, with the exception of private prayer in churches that will remain open, until the end of March".
Patriarch Theodore II of Alexandria, head of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria, has exhorted clergy throughout the continent to "comfort and support our fellow Africans, teach them ways of elementary health and cleanliness, because most do not have access to clean water. And, as the situation is serious, I recommend that you comply with the orders and decisions of the countries in which you serve."
In a joint communique with the heads of other Jerusalem churches, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem urged members "to adhere by the provisions and instruction of the civil authorities" regarding COVID-19.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints implemented a temporary suspension of all worship services while LDS members were involved in providing aid to international communities where members reside. LDS Charities donated food healthcare supplies to 16 countries affected by COVID-19. The church partnered with Project HOPE to offer personal protective equipment or PPEs, Moms Against Poverty and INTERSOS, a disaster relief nonprofit. The LDS church donated protective and respiratory supplies to China and food to local food distributions in the United States.
The Rabbinical Council of America, speaking on behalf of Orthodox Judaism, issued a guideline stating that "public gatherings in synagogues and schools should be severely limited".
The Sikh Center of New York prepared more than 30,000 home-cooked meals for Americans in self-isolation amid the novel coronavirus outbreak. The Sikh community was approached by New York's Mayor office for food packages that were handed out to several distributing federal agencies in the area.
The Scientology Volunteer Ministers aided in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in each of the countries where they have presence they sanitized public facilities, including taxi stations, shopping malls, sidewalks, high-traffic spaces while providing assistance to first responders and shelter to the homeless. Church of Scientology spokesperson Karin Pouw said that the Church practiced social distancing and launched an information and dissemination campaign called the Prevention Resource Center for the public benefit during the time of the COVID-19 crisis.
The First Liberty Institute, a non-profit legal firm based in the United States, has issued guidance for religious institutions related to the suspension of their work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While many religious organizations suspended in-person services, activities and events, some gatherings happened despite advice or regulations to not meet in large groups. Some governments exempted religious organizations from the requirements on the number people allowed to be present at in-person gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic.