Things felt almost normal again.
In-person worship and Sunday activities were back on.
Then came another spike in COVID-19 – this one sparked by the Omicron variant.
This has caused faith communities to return to previous safety protocols. And it has become clear that the struggles present at the beginning of the pandemic remain for congregations throughout Milwaukee’s neighborhoods.
One constant remains, however: The desire for the sense of community that faith often provides remains keen. Milwaukee’s faith communities are striving to meet that need as the pandemic lingers.
“People want to go back to in-person worship,” said Pardeep Kaleka, the executive director of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee. “The community coming together is a part of the experience.”
He said many of his organization’s faith partners have a hybrid setup so that they can switch to virtual worship when and if they need to.
“It’s especially tough for people who are single,” said Chris Nussbaum, president of the Milwaukee North Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “People who live with family can at least worship together, but single people get through it alone.”
The Rev. Steven Tipton of El Bethel Church of God in Christ said navigating the pandemic is a ministry of its own.
“As leaders, it’s our job to keep people encouraged,” he said. “Then, we’ve had to move areas of ministry that we didn’t before, like teaching our elderly members how to join us virtually or supporting members who are struggling in other ways.”
The pandemic has changed what membership looks like.
“When we went virtual, many people never returned,” said Nussbaum. “But we’ve had more new members join over the last year than we have in years.”
He said more people are looking for community and that his church welcomes visitors at any time to come worship.
Tipton said there is a new challenge every week.
“You never know who is going to show up and who won’t or who won’t show ever again,” he said. “This pandemic in some ways has taken religion a ways, and I advise people to seek community with people who allow and encourage a personal relationship with God because that’s all we’ve had in these times.
These faith leaders are continuing their good works.
For instance, El Bethel has continued to operate a food pantry for church members and community members in need.
But individual efforts will count for much as the pandemic continues. Nussbaum encourages doing what you can when you can.
“We’ve encouraged families to pick up service projects and volunteer as long as you feel safe,” he said.
Nussbaum said the combined burdens of solitude and negativity in the news require people to see goodness and love in the world.
“This is where faith and science meet,” said Tipton. “We are encouraging people to get vaccinated; keep with that (and) this will pass.”
In that regard, The Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee is working on COVID-19 education and vaccination advocacy.
“Being in 2022 reminds us of how sacred life is,” Kaleka said. “And how fragile it is, too. We will get through this as a community and come out healthier and stronger.”