FaithHamil R. HarrisReligion

Religious Leaders Make Palm Sunday a Virtual Reality

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan asked all state residents to take a moment on Palm Sunday to pray for health care and essential employees on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as those who are sick and dying.

The governor’s ecumenical call for prayer came at a time when most houses of worship remained closed at the start of the holiest week of the year for Christians, the beginning of Passover for the Jews and on the outset of Ramadan.

With the global health crisis looming over virtually all facets of life, religious groups have had to adapt to express their faith beyond brick and mortar.

“This Sunday is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week, and Wednesday is the beginning of Passover,” Hogan told reporters in Annapolis. “Regardless of your own faith or beliefs, each and every one of us is now being asked to make sacrifices that fit that may very well help us save the lives of others.”

Hogan said even though it’s unsafe to gather in physical places of worship across the state, he said Marylanders should pray in their own manner.

Apparently the preferred method of worship was online, as many congregations have embraced holding services on Zoom, YouTube and Facebook Live.

Hopton Mair, pastor of the Mt. Olivet Apostolic Church in Seat Pleasant, Maryland, preached from his telephone on Sunday about the power of prayer.

“We had a conference line and the message was based from 2 Chronicles 7:14,” Mair said. “I encourage the people to know that God knows by our name and he will never leave us.”

The Archdiocese of Washington has suspended actual services in parishes across the area, with special masses available on television and online. The same is going on with many Jewish synagogues.

On Sunday, Imam Yahya Muhammad, of the Al-Islam Mosque on New Jersey Avenue in Northwest, was at home praying in Bowie, Maryland.

“This is a time to get back to Koran and to the Bible. The Holy Koran stated that sport and play is a past time of this world,” Muhammad said in an interview. “The Christians have to get back to the laws and the commandments. On Friday, Muslims make prayer in their only dwelling at the same time with the same spirit.”

Muhammad said that the six-letter word “corona” — and with the numerical value of each of its letters’ spot in the alphabet totaling 66 — represents 666, the number of the beast, and now is the time to return to basic principles.

“We have to go back to fasting and the Muslim should go back to eating one meal a day at the same time,” Muhammad said. “Ramadan will start April 23-24 at the sighting of the new moon. It is time for Muslims to reflect, to unify and to build a new world of righteousness.”

Rabbi Eli Backman, of the Chabad Jewish Center at the University of Maryland College Park, said that since the onset of the pandemic, he has communicated with many students via phone and Zoom.

“The basic point is that in life we relate to God through knowledge and through belief,” Backman said. “Knowledge means I know what something is. I understand it. I can fully and logically get behind it. Belief means I don’t understand it, but I feel it in my heart. I engage with it on a deeper level of self but one that I cannot always describe and explain to others.

“Both are necessary, on a good and regular day, I think, question and understand my relationship with God,” he said. “I see all that God provides me in my life. I see how God takes care of me amongst the billion of other things God is busy with. This makes the relationship a logical and sensible one.

“Then there are days when things go wrong, and I can’t or, better yet, I don’t want to understand them,” Backman said. “Nonetheless, I still have a relationship with God on a deep, believing level. This is how the Jewish people have dealt with crisis and adversity for years. This is how we have to live today. We might not understand but we believe, we still look for that connection and it helps me through the tough moment I am going through.”

But not all interaction has been virtual, however. At Allen Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in southeast D.C., a trio of church officials passed out palms on Sunday to any church member who drove into the parking lot.

“It is a blessing to be out here,” said church trustee Ron Hall, holding a palm in his hand and wearing a face mask. “We still have to get out and support one another.”

And on Easter Sunday, Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church will pass out 1,000 Giant gift cards.

“This Easter, instead of people coming to church, we want to bring church to the people,” said Rev. Grainger Browning, adding that members will drive up to the church in cars to receive the gift cards.

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Hamil R. Harris

Hamil Harris is an award-winning journalist who worked at the Washington Post from 1992 to 2016. During his tenure he wrote hundreds of stories about the people, government and faith communities in the Greater Washington Area. Hamil has chronicled the Million Man March, the Clinton White House, the September 11 attack, the sniper attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the campaign of President Barack Obama and many other people and events. Hamil is currently a multi-platform reporter on the Local Desk of the Washington Post where he writes a range of stories, shoots photos and produces videos for the print and online editions of the Post. In addition, he is often called upon to report on crime, natural disasters and other breaking issues. In 2006 Harris was part of a team of reporters that published the series “Being a Black Man.” He was also the reporter on the video project that accompanied the series that won two Emmy Awards, the Casey Medal and the Peabody Award. Hamil has lectured at Georgetown University, George Washington University, Howard University, the American University, the University of Maryland and the University of the District of Columbia. He also lectures several times a year to interns during their semester in the District as part of their matriculation at the Consortium of Christian Colleges and Universities.

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