Faith Under COVID-19: One Pastor Learns to Adapt

Practicing one’s faith can feel restricted during a pandemic. I spoke with my Lutheran pastor, Rev. Jason Cashmer, on how he’s using technology to stay connected with the congregation.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way people practice their faith.

“As people yearn for worship, they yearn to be together.” — Jason Cashmer, pastor

Many Michigan churches, synagogues and mosques suspended in-person worship in March due to concerns that the disease could spread within congregations. Funerals are allowed, but must be limited to no more than 10 people. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit allowed parishes to begin offering public Masses on May 19, but with strict distancing and face-covering rules.

Religious institutions may offer online services, but the health crisis has hindered the clergy’s ability to serve the faithful face-to-face.

Rev. Jason Cashmer is the senior pastor at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Southgate. He’s also my pastor.

Listen: WDET’s Pat Batcheller interviews Rev. Jason Cashmer, “Pastor Jay,” about faith and the risks of congregation during a pandemic.

Christ the King Lutheran Church
Christ the King Lutheran Church

Pastor Jay, as church members know him, says he misses the interaction of in-person worship. He has turned to technology and social media to shepherd his flock.

“I did not have Facebook, I really didn’t see a need for it,” Cashmer says. That changed when a member encouraged him to make a profile. “Now’s the time to get a Facebook page to keep up with folks and give them a word of encouragement.”

To his surprise, Cashmer found many of the church’s members were also on Facebook and social media, including some of the older members. He also says they’ve been watching the online worship services.

“We’ve been tracking it and we’ve had a steady number,” he says. “Sometimes we live stream, sometimes it’s recorded, but it’s always posted at 10 a.m.”

Cashmer believes the online participation in worship speaks to the human need for belonging and community.

“As people yearn for worship, they yearn to be together,” he says.

Risk Comes with the Collar

Being a pastor is not a typical 9-to-5 job.

It’s a calling that often requires ministering to people face-to-face. During the COVID-19 pandemic, such personal interaction risks being exposed to — or exposing someone else — to the coronavirus.

“I firmly believe we’re going to come out stronger on the other side of this.”

Cashmer understands that risk. He was diagnosed with COVID-19 in April. 

“The Sunday after Easter is when I took the test, knowing that I was having symptoms,” he says. “They were milder than the flu, but longer lasting.”

Cashmer says he feels fully recovered and able to resume a regular schedule. But he still misses interacting with members.

“Simply hearing about their day-to-day, or catching up with them, asking how they’re doing, that’s what I miss right now,” he says.

Before the pandemic, staff and volunteers would call each member household once a month to update them on what’s happening at the church and to pray with or for them over the phone. Cashmer says they’re now making calls twice a month. 

Where There’s Uncertainty, There’s Hope

It’s not clear yet when Christ the King will open its doors for worship again. And Cashmer says he’s not sure what it will look like.

“We’ve been asking ourselves that for the past couple of weeks,” he says. “Every church is a little bit different. Having 300 people in a sanctuary simply might not be possible.”

Cashmer says he and the school staff are also putting protocols in place for the possible return of students in the fall.

Until then, he offers some encouragement.

“I firmly believe we’re going to come out stronger on the other side of this.”

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  • Pat Batcheller
    Pat Batcheller is a host and Senior News Editor for 101.9 WDET, presenting local news, traffic and weather updates during Morning Edition. He is an amateur musician.