FARGO — In a precautionary move against the coronavirus threat, mosques in Fargo and Moorhead are closing their doors to services and prayers, but several local churches and a synagogue said Friday, March 13, that they plan to stay open.
“I’m 40 years old, and I’ve seen wars, but nothing like this,” said Sefin Zeki, a member of the Islamic Society of Fargo and Moorhead. “Wartime, even after a chemical bomb in northern Iraq, people were still going to mosque.”
While many Fargo-Moorhead faith communities plan to continue holding services this weekend without drastic changes, the members of the Islamic Society said it was their civic duty to help stop the spread of COVID-19, the disease that comes from the coronavirus.
One case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in Ward County, N.D., on Wednesday, March 12. South Dakota had nine confirmed cases as of 1 p.m. Friday, March 13, while Minnesota officials said Friday that 14 Minnesotans are now confirmed to have COVID-19.
Prayers in a mosque are different than in a Christian church, said Sajid Ghauri, a member of the Islamic Society of Fargo-Moorhead.
“We stand shoulder to shoulder, we are touching each other pretty much," Ghauri said. "It’s a little bit different than churches where they can sit apart, but even that can still be very dangerous. Any kind of gathering, you better watch it, and carefully analyze it."
Ghauri also has never heard of a mosque closing, he said. Attending the five prayers per day isn’t mandatory, but is highly recommended. In the old days, people walked to the mosque, which was a form of exercise. The prayers are to remind people to be honest, and to be involved in community, he said.
“When we decide to cancel the prayer, today, which is our largest prayer of the week, and in my 55 years of life that has never happened. Five times a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. The Friday prayer just never gets canceled,” Ghauri said.
“We don’t want to take a chance on it, it’s not worth it, and I am hoping they do this at the churches here, too," he added.
The Fargo Diocese will continue holding Mass, but older adults were excused from attending services, according to a news release on the diocese's website. Catholics were told to suspend using the sign of peace. Church workers are to be “diligent in cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces.”
Holy water fonts may be emptied at the discretion of pastors, but holy water in bottles may be provided, or worshipers can bring their own bottles with water to be blessed. The diocese also allowed for Communion rituals to be “on the hands rather than on the tongue,” which “may slightly reduce the risk of transferring viruses.”
Bishop John Folda and the diocese also recommend Catholics to use the “For Any Need” prayers specifically for the coronavirus threat to public health.
“Members of the faithful should not come to Mass if they are ill. Not only are they legitimately excused from Mass when they are ill, staying home so to avoid the spread of sickness is actually an act of charity,” the diocese website advised.
First Lutheran Church Administrator Daniel Damico said services are still planned for this weekend at the downtown Fargo church, but they’re taking extra precautions.
“It is staying the same," he said. "We have taken into consideration this immediate weekend how we’re serving Communion, asking the congregation to refrain from handshaking and any physical contact as much as possible. We’ve added hand sanitizer all over the place. We typically go away from the handshaking in the midst of the flu season anyway.”
Church leadership is meeting on a daily basis, and he expects additional changes may come early next week.
“As for the immediate, we’ll be as careful as we possibly can, and going into next week, there may need to be some changes that are pretty dramatic,” Damico said.
First Lutheran uses individual cups instead of a communal cup during Communion rituals, and they will be using individual wafers instead of bread, Damico said.
Temple Beth El President Bev Jacobson said the Jewish synagogue services started for Shabbat during the evening of Friday, March 13, and will continue into the weekend.
“We’re keeping on top of the rapidly changing information. We will have services tomorrow, but will make decisions for further weeks as we go,” Jacobson said Friday.
Temple Bel El does not offer livestreaming for its services. The congregation is small, she said, and everyone will be practicing social distancing.
Although some churches do broadcast their services on radio and television, Brian Lofthus, event coordinator HB Sound and Light Inc., has noticed an increase in requests for information related to livestreaming services from area religious organizations.
“There’s been an increase in interest, but not many churches have decided to go with this yet. They’re just looking at options. We’ve received requests not only from churches, but from arts events for online streaming,” Lofthus said.
The process is simple, and typically costs about $500, he said. In a church setting, a microphone is placed on the pastor, and one or multiple cameras are set up and linked to a computer, which will record to a designated link for anyone to watch.
“It can also be interactive,” Lofthus said, “if the viewer wants to tweet something, or hashtag, or pick up a hashtag, or a blessing, or whatever to the church’s monitor. It’s a back-and-forth interaction.”
First Lutheran Church will implement livestreaming services soon, Damico said.
“We’re going to look at that every day, too, to see what are the best options, because what makes sense one day doesn’t make sense the next with how quickly things are adjusting,” Damico said.
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