Religion

As COVID-19 Upends Religious Holidays, Houston’s Faithful Celebrate By Helping Others

The coronavirus is changing the holidays for everyone. Now some Houston-area faith groups have focused their efforts on the community amid holiday preparations. 

The Seder-to-Go kits were picked up by individuals and volunteers.

Religious services are being upended as faith communities work to comply with new guidelines intended to flatten the curve of COVID-19 infections.

And as some religious communities observe major holidays, this year’s celebrations have been forced to change.

"We have adjusted our plans this year but that doesn't mean we will not be fasting," said Nasir H Malik, a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. "Muslims will remain connected to our faith and community."

The ISGH River Oaks Islamic Center has moved its programs online. This virtual congregation will continue during Ramadan so that prayers can be observed from the safety of worshippers' homes. The holy month of Ramadan will begin at sundown on April 23, and while celebrations will be different, they will continue.

And some Houston-area faith groups have focused their efforts on the community amid holiday preparations.

Humanity First, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Organization and Ahmadiyya Muslim Community organized a food drive

The Bait Us Samee Mosque will remain open for essential services including a blood drive, food drive and prayer. Muslims for Life and Red Cross have paired to host a blood drive in the Bait Us Samee mosque and in other mosques around the country.

Humanity First, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Organization and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community have also provided groceries and supplies to more than 2000 families in Houston.

The 12 Chabad Centers of Houston are bringing Passover to the isolated and homebound, creating special Seder-to-Go kits for Passover, which began Wednesday

Seder-to-Go kits contain all the traditional items for the seder plate.

The aim of the kits is to make sure that people have access to all the necessary items for the Passover meal, marking the beginning of the holiday. The kit was created to ensure people didn't have to compromise their safety for one of the most important religious celebrations in Judaism.

Each Seder-to-Go box contains a decorative Seder plate along with all the traditional items for the meal: Matzo, a bottle of grape juice, a kiddush cup and a user-friendly Haggadah with English translation and instructions.

"These kits will help to ensure every Jewish person is able to celebrate the festival of our freedom in these uniquely challenging times," Rabbi Chaim Lazaroff, program director for Chabad Lubavitch of Texas, said in an email "Not only do the kits provide essential supplies for people who cannot go out to shop for Passover provisions, they mean that vulnerable people who should be staying at home do not have to choose between their safety and having a Seder.”

Greater Houston area church Bayou City Fellowship's campuses have moved services online, streaming sermons from their website and posting daily holy week devotional videos.

"It's been great because we get to see people from all three campuses," said Pastor Joshua Eckert. "I feel like as we are secluded in our homes it's bringing us all together at the same time."

Bayou City Fellowship headed a program encouraging people to make personal protective equipment for local health care workers. Its public Facebook group for the project has 525 members and is still growing.

Group members are posting tutorials with creative ideas to hand craft caps and facemasks that are being donated to Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital and Houston Methodist Willowbrook Hospital, with the hope of expanding to more hospitals in the future.

LBJ hospital staff thanked those in the group with a Facebook post after the delivery, saying "there were a lot of smiles and fun picking out masks…knowing there are

Bayou City Fellowship delivered their first round of masks to LBJ hospital.

people out there working for us, on our team, is so encouraging."

Church members made snack bags for paramedics on the go, and the church has teamed up with local ministries to organize a limited food drive.

While Easter may be different this year, Eckert said helping the community honors the holiday "on a spiritual level."

"We may be kept in our homes but the gospel message isn’t confined," Eckert said. "I feel like that’s what brings people together."

A previous version of this article misstated the name of a religious youth group. It is the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Organization, not the Muslim Youth Organization.

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