The video looks like any Sunday morning church service at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Riverside.
A cantor leads the congregation in prayer. Father Bill Roush and Deacon Derick Cranston stand behind the altar, offering prayers.
But it is not the same. The pews are empty, filled only by photos of parishioners confined to their homes by social distancing.
“Seeing those pictures makes it more realistic,” Roush said.
Churches throughout the area are turning to online video for their church services to comply with social distancing restrictions limiting public gatherings to 10 people or less.
Roush leads three Catholic parishes – in Riverside, Richmond and Wellman. Usually he celebrates three Masses on Saturdays and Sundays. Now he does one that is videotaped and available on YouTube each week.
The services are popular. About 400 people watched the Mass last weekend.
The pastor also does a daily holy hour from 3-4 p.m., which is averaging 200-plus people watching on Facebook Live. The service varies from day to day with adoration, recitation of the rosary, stations of the cross, silent prayer, reflection and music.
Pastors and their congregations are learning how to keep religion in their lives at a time when traditional services are forbidden.
“No funerals, no weddings, no baptisms,” Roush said. “No gatherings of greater than 10 people.”
He is conducting small committal services for the dead, with funerals planned for later after the coronavirus threat passes.
“We take care of immediate needs, and we’ll schedule family gatherings later,” Roush said.
He no longer visits hospitals but offers prayers for the sick over the phone.
And Roush is reaching out to his congregations, calling 15 to 20 people a day “just to let them know I’m thinking of them, praying for them.”
He misses seeing people and interacting with them.
“I am a hugger and handshaker,” he said. “This has been hard for me. It is a true Lenten penance.”
Roush has turned to his deacon, Derick Cranston, for support during these past weeks.
“Deacon Derick has been a tremendous support through all of this,” he said.
Roush has no doubt people will persevere.
“I just pray everybody works together and recognize that through God all things are possible.”