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Distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine creates a possible light at the end of the pandemic tunnel.

But as the world anxiously awaits a return to some form of normalcy, many are questioning what a post-pandemic future will look like.

The Ivy League Club of the Golden Isles, a local group of Ivy League alumni, has begun to pose these questions in a new series called “After the Pandemic” that launched this month. The first event, held via Zoom, focused on how the pandemic will change people’s experience with religion.

Members of the club asked two prominent local religious leaders, Rabbi Rachael Bregman and the Rev. John Perry, how they envision a post-pandemic world and what may change about people’s relationship and interactions with religion.

Perry, who leads Mount Sinai Missionary Baptist Church in Waverly, said he has continuously wrestled with the question of how to practice one’s faith under current conditions. The pandemic has forced religious leaders and congregation members to rethink ideas and practices that have long been routine.

“Most of us understand that the mission of a congregation and the message of a congregation doesn’t change, but the methods that we employ to carry out that mission and that message may have to change,” he said.

Individual believers should be encouraged to have a personal devotional life, Perry said, and the pandemic has not changed that. It’s group worship that must be examined in new light.

“I don’t believe that the believer from a devotional standpoint is forced to go through major change, but when we talk about the collective body of believers, the congregation, coming together, that expression of worship is radically changing,” he said. “I think what it’s done in this COVID environment is that … the whole digital change has been expedited as a result of what is taking place.”

This accelerated onset of technology can be beneficial, he said, as churches have often been behind on these kinds of innovative practices.

“Right now, we’re being forced to catch up,” he said. “A lot of churches that were not using Facebook, social media, the different platforms, they’re being forced to catch up. And I think what’s happening is that we are being, unbeknownst to us, prepared for the new world to come.”

Both Bregman and Perry made significant changes at their places of worship last year to provide for needed pandemic precautions.

Temple Beth Tefiloh in Brunswick, where Bregman serves as rabbi, switched to Zoom services, which initially came with challenges like ensuring everyone knew how to use the technology and figuring how to create a virtual service experience.

“I think the biggest challenge has been really making sure that we’re staying connected with one another,” Bregman said.

At the start of the pandemic, Mount Sinai Missionary Baptist asked its members who are 65 and older to stay home but allowed younger congregation members to continue attending services. Soon, the church transitioned into allowing more people to come but put in place new policies that allowed for social distancing and other safety precautions. They also offered services in the parking lot for about a month and a half.

Looking to the future, Bregman said she struggles to separate the pandemic’s impacts on religion from the context of other recent events like the presidential election and social justice movements of 2020.

She also does not believe that world will return to the way it was before the pandemic. Behaviors like mask wearing and social distancing will likely stick around to some degree, she said, and the expanded use of technology will not likely diminish much.

The pandemic has also made more people aware of how interconnected the world is, said Bregman, noting she’s spent most of her career emphasizing these connections but that COVID-19 has made these ideas easier to understand.

“When you have a germ that makes its way from Wuhan, China, and goes all the way around the world over and over again, I get to say, ‘We’re all connected,’ and people say, ‘We sure are,’” she said. “I think has really changed our sense of what our call to being is … And I find that it’s much easier now to talk about how we are all responsible for each other.”

The pandemic may have made some waiver in their faith, Perry said, while others have embraced their faith more deeply during this time.

“In my personal congregation, I’ve seen people take a deeper grip onto their faith,” he said. “They’ve intensified their study of the word, their reading of the word. It’s caused them to understand that they have a great dependence on God and one another.”

The pandemic has led many to think more seriously about their own mortality, Bregman said. The anxieties of waiting for something terrible to happen and watching mass suffering around the world has also left many simply not OK.

But as the pandemic’s conclusion seems finally possible, religious organizations are now more accessible than ever before, via technology. This can create an opportunity for more people to become involved in a local church, synagogue or other group of worshipers.

“Crisis is not something strange to the church, and throughout church history in moments of crisis the church has always been able to survive and to prevail,” Perry said. “I believe that this is a situation in which the church or the spiritual community will prevail. We do have to use technology because right now it is the vehicle that is allowing us an opportunity to reach people in those multiple ways.”

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