March 2021

Face to Face: Faith Leaders And The Pandemic

March 15, 2021    |  

University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) President Bruce E. Jarrell, MD, FACS, hosted four Baltimore religious leaders — all from different faiths — on his March 11 webinar, Virtual Face to Face with President Bruce Jarrell. Billed as an interfaith conversation, the program explored a critical aspect of life for many in the city that had to adapt — like everything else in our lives — to meet the needs of the faithful.

On March 19 of last year, Gov. Larry Hogan issued a statewide order banning social gatherings of more than 10 people — effectively shuttering churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples all across the Free State. That was a Thursday — giving very little time for faith leaders to come up with a plan for Friday prayers in mosques, Shabbat services Friday evening or Saturday morning in synagogues, and Sunday services in Christian churches.

Many went online and had to overcome some educational hurdles with their congregations. Some organized drive-thru services. One priest in Prince George’s County at the Church of St. Edward the Confessor even organized — what else — drive-thru confessional.

And it was that way all around the world. Pope Francis delivered his Easter homily in an empty St. Peter’s Basilica. The Archbishop of Canterbury did the same thing from his London apartment. And somehow the Imam of Philadelphia’s Masjidullah Mosque — with more than a thousand congregants — found a way to hold Friday prayers with 6 feet of social distance. Signs out front read, “Take your temperature before going to prayer” and “If possible try to avoid handshakes and hugs.”

But the work of the faithful and their importance to the community is much more than religious services and ceremonies. Faith organizations play a critical role in providing medical and social services, and even food to the neediest in our communities. Over the last year, as the need has soared, so too have efforts to help in our area. Not far from UMB, First Mount Calvary Baptist Church turned its fellowship hall into a food pantry and fed more than 18,000 people between May and October. Volunteers at Govans Presbyterian Church in North Baltimore prepare up to 100 hot meals to distribute outdoors on Sundays. And the Jewish Volunteer Connection’s “Mitzvah Week” at the end of December engaged more than 1,500 volunteers to provide for some 4,000 people in the Baltimore area. And there are plenty more wonderful examples like that.

But now, at the end of this difficult year of changes, it looks like things are beginning to change back. On March 5, Hogan announced that capacity limits for restaurants, bars, and yes, churches would be lifted March 12. The Baltimore Sun editorial board called that decision incautious, uncoordinated and unwise, citing the fact that fewer than 10 percent of Marylanders are fully vaccinated at this point.

Joining Jarrell to discuss how churches, mosques, and synagogues managed to thrive over the last year and how they'll balance the spiritual and health concerns of their congregations going forward were four Baltimore City faith leaders:

  • Rabbi Daniel Burg, MA, Beth Am Synagogue in Reservoir Hill;
  • Yassine Daoud, MD, a lay leader and preacher in various Baltimore-area Muslim communities;
  • Rev. Dr. Phyllis Felton, pastor, Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in Druid Heights;
  • Bishop Bruce A. Lewandowski, CSsR, auxiliary bishop, Archdiocese of Baltimore.

Watch the entire discussion by accessing the link at the top of this page.