MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Pastors and Rabbis in South Florida are finding more and more creative ways to reach you and involve you with their services in these days of social distancing.

Governor Ron DeSantis has said that religious leaders should be allowed to use their own judgment to ensure social distancing as coronavirus cases rise in Florida.

At Saint Benedict’s Episcopal Church in Plantation, the Reverend Albert Cutie tells CBS4’s Peter D’Oench that he now says mass through Facebook Live and through the church’s website.

The church that is just east of University Drive on Northwest 5th Street used to be packed on Sundays with hundreds of parishioners but it is now closed.

“I find that people are starting to get used to being online,” said Cutie. “It has been several weeks now. We do services a lot through Facebook Live and through our website. We try to connect with different people and some of the ways are also free conference calls in which people listen in if they are not on the internet and not on Facebook Live. At least they can go on and listen to the service.”

“It’s completely new for us,” he said. “I think most synagogues and most churches find it very challenging to bring people together. My biggest concern is the elderly and those who live alone, I don’t want them to feel alone. I am not allowed to visit pastorally like I used to. I can’t go into nursing homes or hospitals. They just don’t let us in. This year it is just going to be me and my music Director which is strange. Usually, we have a thousand people here with palms and celebration.”

D’Oench spoke with Cutie about the anxiety that many feel.

Cutie said, “Obviously at this stage social distancing us about saving lives so I think everyone is willing to make sacrifices and maybe this week Holy Week will be marked by a kind of loneliness that Jesus felt at the Garden before he died. Maybe that loneliness is where we were called for right now and maybe to go within and seek that spirituality from within and not necessarily be in church with other people.”

Cutie expects 40 to 60 percent of his church members to be online for the 1000 am service on Palm Sunday which celebrates Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. Cutie hopes and prays that number will be higher.

Nearby on Broward Boulevard at Hiatus Road, Ramat Shalom is also closed for services but Rabbi Andrew Jacobs is very active online and is using Zoom to involve his congregation. It is also an important time for Ramat Shalom and other synagogues with Shabbat on Friday night and Passover Seder next Wednesday.

Jacobs told D’Oench “These days we encourage people to log in and join us online and really come together. It’s amazing how we have been able to create Holy Technology using the community and connecting. We’ve had to innovate and I will tell you fortunately out congregation has been innovative with technology and we had a little bit of a head start.”

He said “Just the ability to be able to see each others’ faces and hear each others’ voices. We’re also doing classes as such online and have done social times as well.”

Jacobs and Cutie who are friends are equally eloquent in their religious philosophy and insight.

Jacobs said, “We understand suffering in a way many people have not experienced in their lives and we are looking forward to freedom in a way one day we will be able to walk out of our house and hug our brothers and sisters as we get through this crisis.”

And Jacobs has a message of hope for his congregation, saying on Zoom during one service, “Together we are strong and through this technology, we will be strong.”

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Peter D'Oench

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