Religious leaders are suddenly relying on YouTube, Facebook and even the parking lot of a Dirt Cheap bargain store to reach worshippers amid the spread of the coronavirus.
They are holding conference calls for Bible study, hearing confessions by appointment and erecting a virtual synagogue on the fly.
Despite a global pandemic that has rocked Louisiana, churches and synagogues are taking unprecedented steps to stay connected to their congregations.
Our parishioners look at the church as the rock in the middle of the storm, and it is comforting to them to hear the voices of our clergy, to see we're doing well and to connect with a community that they already miss, said the Rev. Jamin David, pastor of St. Margaret Queen of Scotland Catholic church in Albany and St. Thomas Chapel in Springfield.
Traditional religious gatherings, like schools, colleges and many workplaces, are on hold just ahead of Easter amid state orders to limit groups to 10 or less.
Louisiana has one of the highest per capita rates of the virus in the world, and the New Orleans area accounts for most of them. But denominations across the board say they are still able to deliver traditional religious rites even if the methods are unorthodox.
The website of the Archdiocese of New Orleans lists nearly three dozen churches offering a virtual Mass and prayer opportunities.
Immaculate Conception Church in Scotlandville is livestreaming Sunday and daily masses and employing conference calls to say the Rosary.
"I am just using a laptop and a smartphone and streaming on YouTube and Facebook," the Rev. Tom Clark said in an email. "I think it all helps us feel less isolated."
At Mary, Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Mandeville, the 9 a.m. daily mass, 3 p.m. special devotion and Stations of the Cross on Fridays are all being livestreamed.
In the past week the number of YouTube subscribers has risen from 29 to more than 500, said the Rev. Jared Rodrigue.
"The main struggle, I think, is the initial connection, getting word out to those who are not so tech savvy or who simply have not heard of the exciting things going on," Rodrigue said.
Michael Duca, bishop of the Diocese of Baton Rouge, said he is encouraging people to "raise your head up and be an instrument of hope for someone else."
"If you can reach out and help someone it can be like a medicine," Duca said.
On March 22 St. Alban's Chapel, which is across from the Parade Ground at LSU, used Facebook to livestream its Episcopal service led by the Rev. Andrew Rollins, chaplain, and seven others, with doors locked and social distancing rules in place. The congregation was invited online to say a "Prayer for Spiritual Communion."
"I know that's not perfect," Rollins said. "The clergy are all figuring this out as we go."
Members of Westside Emmanuel Baptist Church in Bogalusa last weekend held a "drive-in" service, with people in cars and trucks in the church parking lot tuning into an FM transmitter to hear the service and a band playing from a gooseneck trailer.
"We have an online presence, but there is just something about gathering together that provides a sense of normalcy and hope," said Pastor Marcus Rosa.
Future services will be held in the more spacious Dirt Cheap parking lot, the former site of a Walmart.
In addition to changing regular services, the virus has affected ministries.
St. Margaret Queen of Scotland has suspended its weekly delivery of communion to the homebound and parishioners in nursing homes. Healing Place Church stopped its after-school outreach at several schools and at its Dream Center in North Baton Rouge, but the church plans to reach some of the individuals by phone, email and internet, said the Rev. Johnny Green, an associate pastor.
This is obviously a fearful and confusing time, but we believe it didnt surprise God, Green said. We believe God is in control. We believe God wants to be a part of peoples lives, and were looking for ways to be a part of that process.
First Baptist Church in Baton Rouge has suspended its homeless ministry because the volunteers are senior adults and more vulnerable to the coronavirus.
"The greatest ministry we can provide is to stay healthy and keep other people out of the way of this illness," said the Rev. Oren Conner, pastor of First Baptist.
"I know a lot of the steps being taken seem to be overkill, but the reality is, if we don't do this now, it may be too late later. That's one of the things we have to encourage one another to do."
The Rev. S.C. Dixon, pastor of Greater Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church, is fearful that the shutdown of churches, and weekly collections, will especially hurt black congregations.
"When people don't come to church they're not so prone to want to make that financial contribution," Dixon said.
"It's hard when you're at church, let alone not being at church. Most of us are not as financially sound."
Rabbi Natan Trief of Beth Shalom Synagogue in Baton Rouge said members are erecting a "virtual synagogue" using Zoom and other platforms that allows for the delivery of Friday evening and Saturday morning services.
Trief said he senses "a lot of anxiety, a lot of uncertainty" but no panic amid the pandemic.
"A lot of our people, the Jewish people especially, are used to periods of uncertainty and periods of anxiety," he said in an email.
At First Presbyterian in Baton Rouge, the normal three Sunday services have been trimmed to one at 10:30 a.m. that is livestreamed through multiple platforms.
On Sunday the broadcast on Facebook will include an interactive chat, said Pastor Gerrit Dawson.
The Rev. Trey Nelson, pastor of St. Jude the Apostle in Baton Rouge, said aside from livestreaming and other steps, he records a two-minute night prayer for children available on YouTube.
"We have just received so many thank-yous and prayers," Nelson said. "They are just grateful for us staying connected."
The bishop's Sunday Mass at 10:30 a.m. at St. Joseph Cathedral and his weekday 8 a.m. masses are aired on CatholicLife TV, Facebook and other social media platforms and re-aired several times daily.
Duca said he has been calling priests individually and is allowing them to keep churches open for personal prayer as long as they can ensure that only a few people are in the church and meet other rules.
He said livestreaming services and other innovations fill a vital need.
"It keeps the parish together," he said.