Things seemed almost normal again.
In-person worship and Sunday activities have resumed.
Then came another spike in COVID-19 – this one triggered by the Omicron variant.
This caused religious communities to revert to previous security protocols. And it has become clear that the struggles present at the start of the pandemic continue for neighborhood congregations in Milwaukee.
One constant remains, however: the desire for the sense of community that faith often provides remains strong. Faith communities in Milwaukee are working to meet this need as the pandemic lingers.
“People want to return to worship in person,” said Pardeep Kaleka, executive director of the Greater Milwaukee Interfaith Conference. “The community that comes together is part of the experience.”
He said many of his organization’s faith partners have a hybrid setup that allows them to switch to virtual worship when and if needed.
“It’s especially difficult for single people,” said Chris Nussbaum, president of the Milwaukee North Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “People who live in families can at least worship together, but single people do it alone.”
Reverend Steven Tipton of El Bethel Church of God in Christ said navigating the pandemic is a ministry in its own right.
“As leaders, it’s our job to keep people encouraged,” he said. “Then we had to move areas of ministry that we didn’t have before, like teaching our older members how to join us virtually or supporting struggling members in other ways.”
The pandemic has changed what membership looks like.
“When we went virtual, a lot of people never came back,” Nussbaum said. “But we’ve had more new members in the past year than we’ve had in years.”
He said more people are looking for community and his church welcomes visitors anytime to come and pray.
Tipton said there is a new challenge every week.
“You never know who’s going to show up and who won’t show up or who won’t ever show up again,” he said. “This pandemic has, in some ways, evolved religion, and I advise people to seek community with people who allow and encourage a personal relationship with God, because that is all we have had in these times.
These religious leaders continue their good works.
For example, El Bethel continued to operate a food pantry for church members and community members in need.
But individual efforts will count for a lot as long as the pandemic continues. Nussbaum encourages doing what you can when you can.
“We have encouraged families to participate in service projects and volunteer as long as you feel safe,” he said.
Nussbaum said the combined burdens of loneliness and negativity in the news force people to see goodness and love in the world.
“This is where faith and science meet,” Tipton said. “We encourage people to get vaccinated; keep it up (and) it will pass.
In this regard, the Greater Milwaukee Interfaith Conference is working on COVID-19 education and immunization awareness.
“Being in 2022 reminds us how sacred life is,” Kaleka said. “And how fragile he is too. We are going to get through this as a community and come out of this healthier and stronger. »