Rev. Paul Cunningham continues to preach to the congregation of La Jolla Presbyterian Church (LJPC) during the coronavirus pandemic. Only now, he does it with his daughter Morgan playing guitar and singing, his son Micah videoing and his dogs, Taz and Tigger, barking occasionally in the background.
Nearly all La Jolla’s religious institutions have moved their services online in response to COVID-19 and the government’s mandates against social gathering. Cunningham preaches from his home in Bird Rock with a live stream which airs 8:45 a.m. and 10 a.m. Sundays on Facebook Live at facebook.com/LaJollaPres and the church’s website: ljpres.org/live
“Worshipping at home is how the early church started,” Cunningham told La Jolla Light. “The first Christians didn’t have a place to go, so they worshipped at home.”
All clergy are legally allowed to enter their buildings, as long as they prevent the public from gathering in them. (Whether they choose to enter depends on the organizations that dictate their policies.)
Father Patrick Mulcahy broadcasts daily mass at 6:30 a.m. from an empty Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Church to Facebook Live at facebook.com/MaryStarinLaJolla and the church’s website: marystarlajolla.org
Sunday mass is recorded 5 p.m. Saturday then uploaded the next morning. Parishioners are also allowed in the church to pray in solitude from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays.
“People need to feel connected to God in the midst of a crisis,” Mulcahy said. “The Church must continue to be that instrument that helps people to experience God’s presence at the time they need it most.”
Rabbis Ron Shulman and Avi Libman live-stream services at 7:30 a.m. weekdays from inside Stone Family Sanctuary at Congregation Beth El to its website: cbe.org and notices for upcoming online services are also posted at facebook.com/CBELaJolla
“We decided that while this was a very different moment for us, we wanted to offer the kinds of things we always offered,” Shulman said. “So we’re not going crazy and throwing a hundred things at them, but the normal times we would interact with them, we’re offering the same thing online.”
These services get seen by many more people than would have attended them in person before the pandemic. Shulman said Beth El gets about 100 visitors per service — a three-fold increase. Mulcahy said each of his sermons gets watched between 700 and 1,000 times.
“We’ve discovered we’re being watched by people from West Virginia, Virginia, Oregon — people from all sorts of places have thanked us,” Mulcahy said.
This doesn’t translate to more donations, Mulcahy said, “but that is understandable, with the economic challenges all of us are facing.”
St. James by-the-Sea Episcopal Church‘s Rev. Mark Hargreaves doesn’t live-stream, but records sermons outside on the church grounds. These are then interspersed with clips showing members of the congregation reading from the Bible, and previous recordings of the choir singing hymns. It all gets uploaded to the church’s YouTube channel — which is embedded into its sjbts.org website — every Sunday morning or directly at youtube.com/channel/UCE4pakw9kl27hvjrkj9BawQ
“We’re pleased with the response,” Hargreaves said. “We’ve had 500 visits to watch that. So the word has got out and people are clearly engaging. “
Likewise, children’s minister Lea Booth has been loading up La Jolla United Methodist Church’s virtually unused YouTube channel with new content — including YouTube Live sing-alongs on weekday afternoons from a spare bedroom in her Clairemont Mesa home. She’s also ramping up a virtual Sunday School for her students to attend via the Zoom app. La Jolla United Methodist Church’s YouTube channel with messages from Booth can be viewed at youtube.com/channel/UCCCjFa8d1323CtRLfX2Qsiw and also linked to facebook.com/LaJollaUnitedMethodistChurch
La Jolla United Methodist Church also offers recorded audio from recent services at lajollaunitedmethodist.org
Blessing in disguise?
Being cajoled into all this new technology may be a blessing in disguise, several clergy noted. In fact, once the pandemic passes, many of these adaptations are likely to stay.
“It’s pushed us to use technology in ways we haven’t done before, but which we will keep using,” Hargreaves said. “We all had iPhones, but we didn’t use them to their full potential, which we are now.”
Just before being interviewed, Hargreaves said, he was on a virtual prayer service with parishioners via Zoom.
“We just had 20 people praying together on the screen,” he enthused, “20 little squares!”
It’s more difficult for the Catholic church to change its traditional ways, Mulcahy admitted, “but I think we’ll incorporate what we can, because I think, especially for people who are shut in, it’s really important.” However, he added: “We don’t want to lose the personal contact. It’s kind of a balance we have to figure out.”
None of the institutions contacted by the Light shared President Donald Trump’s optimism of an Easter 2020 in the company of others, by the way. “We’re making plans as if we will be doing Easter through the Internet — simply because of regulations from the civil government,” Mulcahy said. “But what we’ve experienced from this is that everything turns on a dime, so we’re adhering to that old motto: Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.”
Shulman responded to the question by indicating that he recently taught a class called “Seders in Seclusion.”