BALTIMORE -- The Rev. Mark Bialek normally celebrates Easter Mass for thousands of people at St. John Roman Catholic Church in Westminster, Md., and the 4,300-family parish marks the day with what Bialek calls "breathtakingly beautiful" flowers and music.
This year, the 41-year-old priest will conduct the year's most important service from a nearly empty sanctuary, streaming the proceedings online. The parish will skip the flowers to save money for ministering to the poor.
With the novel coronavirus spreading and lockdowns expanding, and two of the Judeo-Christian world's major holidays coming up, faith leaders are hoping to preserve a sense of community.
Many churches and synagogues will stream Easter and Passover services live. Family gatherings will be held by video conference using FaceTime, StreamSpot and Zoom.
Clergy will reach out to their most isolated congregants by text, email and phone throughout Christianity's Holy Week, which begins with Palm Sunday on April 5 for most U.S. denominations, and the eight days of Passover, set to start April 8 at sunset.
"We're just beginning to get our arms around what this all means, but we're working hard, and in solidarity, to practice safe social distancing," Bialek said. "At the same time, we're doing what we can to continue to build bridges, to be in communion with one another."
The senior rabbi at Maryland's oldest synagogue agrees.
"As one of my teachers observed, we can't meet physically, but we will gather," said Rabbi Andrew Busch of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.
"We'll be with each other digitally, not physically. But we will very much be with each other."
Passover is the holiday during which Jews commemorate their forebears' deliverance from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. The name invokes a night described in the book of Exodus when God passed over the homes of the Israelites while inflicting a deadly plague on their tormentors.