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Claremont religious leaders take worship online

by Steven Felschundneff

steven@claremont-courier.com

Before the world slowly shut down due to the ever growing coronavirus pandemic, Claremont United Church of Christ had a simple cart outside of its sanctuary full of home grown produce.

The sharing cart worked like the ever-popular Free Little Libraries—parishioners were invited to leave something for others or take something for themselves. However, since co-pastors Jen Strickland and Jacob Buchholz recently made the decision to halt in-person church services, the cart is now empty and locked inside. The pastors then decided to take the sharing cart idea online.

The virtual sharing cart has a much more ambitions mission, connecting volunteers in our community with people who need any type of supplies, beyond just produce.

The program is run through a pinned post on CUCC’s Facebook page, where people can comment about what they have or can share what they need. Church volunteers will then deliver the goods to those who are self isolating or quarantined due to the virus.

“On Sundays we typically have a sharing cart where people can share extra produce. But with the digital sharing cart, if someone is in need of milk or diapers or needs someone to go to the grocery store or pick up a prescription, there is someone available to run that errand and do a porch drop off,” Mr. Buchholz said.

After announcing the creation of the virtual sharing cart, the church received calls from several dozen people who wanted to help either by delivering supplies or running errands.

“It was really kind of heartwarming the number of people who came forward and said they were available and willing to help out with any need,” Mr. Buchholz said. “I just wanted to put that out to the community, that if anyone needs anything at all they can reach out to the church.”

So far the traffic has been modest but the pastors really want to get the word out to the community at large so it can grow. They are particularly interested in assisting people over age 65 who are sequestering themselves at home, and mothers who may be looking for milk or diapers.

While the main portal for the sharing cart is the church’s Facebook page, people can also call the church office (909) 626-1201 or email the pastors: jen@claremontucc.org or jacob@claremontucc.org

Like most churches, temples and synagogues right now, all in-person services and meetings at CUCC have been cancelled, including all support groups and the popular Early Childhood Center preschool.

When the preschool closed, the church decided to keep paying the employees for two weeks, but many parents responded by saying they would donate tuition to keep the teachers paid a little longer.

Mr. Buchholz and Ms. Strickland have launched a live “story time with Jen and Jacob” every Tuesday at 10 a.m., which is presented in English and in American Sign Language.

During each 30-minute session, which can also be found on the church’s Facebook page, the couple read three (mostly) non-religious children’s books and teach the children some sign language.

Temple Beth Israel has also taken to the internet as Claremont residents shelter at home, by initiating daily online religious services to help the community stay connected while the sanctuary, preschool and offices remain closed.

The temple holds a prayer service called TBI Zoom Siyyum at 6:45 p.m. every day of the week except Friday. The service is broadcast simultaneously on Zoom and Facebook live.

Siyyum is a Hebrew word for a “celebration of the end of the something,” in this case the end of each day. The online gatherings average 30 people in an interactive format during which parishioners can check in with Rabbi Jonathan Kupetz and Cantor Paul Buch.

On Fridays, TBI offers two Shabbat services—the first at 6:30 p.m. is for families with children not yet in second grade, while the second at 7:30 p.m. is for everyone else.

Religious school is held online Sunday and Wednesday afternoons; the preschool streams live Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11 a.m. with music by Cantor Buch.

“It really has been miraculous how the technology has evolved to the point where we can integrate it and provide a service to our community in a way that was not possible 40 years ago, enabling the community to stay together and to weather this chaos and not feel scared and abandoned,” Mr. Buch said.

The religious community in Claremont has an established reputation for close contact and working together particularly through the Claremont Interfaith Council.

“On a practical level, all of the different faith communities are trying to find ways to meet the needs of everyone from young children all the way up to our seniors. Faith communities have always been a place of intergenerational connection, so I think this is a time when that is becoming really clear and really important. We also offer our pastoral care to anyone in the community who needs it in times of crisis,” Ms. Strickland said.

There is no doubt that the personal connection is not as fulfilling when everything moves to the internet, however, it is much better than no connection at all. Ms. Strickland said that the first online church service CUCC held in an empty sanctuary following the governor’s “stay at home” order was “surreal and a little sad.”

She added that she gets a lot of energy and renewal from having those interactions. That may be one reason why the virtual sharing cart is so important as we all recede into our homes.

“When people step up in times of crisis like this I think it affirms all of my beliefs that people are inherently good. That love abounds even in time of challenge and hardship,” Ms. Strickland said.

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