Paradigm shift: Messianic congregations turn to Zoom, online streaming to connect
Kehila News, Kehila News Israel Staff, March 26, 2020
It was only two weeks ago that some Messianic congregations around Israel were scrambling to adjust to Ministry of Health regulations that limited gatherings to only 100 people at a time. But most congregations have fewer than 100 members and were unaffected.
This week, however, all congregations, plus synagogues, churches and mosques around the country, have been prohibited from meeting at all. New regulations implemented in order to control the spread of the contagious COVID-19 virus forbid most citizens from venturing more than 100 meters from their home unless they are buying food or medicine at a nearby store.
Within one month, the landscape of fellowship and connection between believers has been utterly altered, perhaps permanently.
“I think once this is over we will face a new reality, a new routine,” Liron Shany, a pastor at The Way in Carmiel (Kehilat Haderech), told Kehila News. “Things will not go back to what we are used to and I think we need to set our hearts to be ready for that.”
“This should change the perspective we have about what a congregation is and how it should function,” Shany said.
Like many people around the world — both business and individuals — believers in Israel have turned to Zoom calls, live online streaming and WhatsApp groups in order to maintain their weekly services, to encourage one another and simply to stay in touch during this time of social distancing.
“Everyone is in a learning curve of new programs, but from a congregational standpoint the goal is about connecting,” Philip Litle, associate pastor at Beit Eliyahu in Haifa, said. “In general we are seeing that people are learning to use different tools, they are finding ways around what they are used to.”
Litle noted what is sometimes a generational gap in people’s responses to technology.
“The difficulty is keeping in touch with one another. It is hard for people who are used to meeting together” to rely on internet meetings, Litle told Kehila News. “For the younger generation, where the phone tends to substitute for personal contact, it is an opportunity to reflect on how important the personal contact is as well.”
The learning curve has been fast. For all congregations — even for churches, synagogues and mosques — the Ministry of Health orders began trickling in early this month as Israel clamped down on public gatherings from sporting events to prayer services. March began with a crowd maximum of 5,000 who could gather. In just three short weeks, that number was cut to 2,000 then chopped further to 100, then 10 to a total ban on prayer services.
Congregations throughout the land have been spinning to comply with the ever-tightening restrictions. Across the board, the goal has been to stay connected, to continue to provide teaching and to bring encouragement to the congregants — especially those who live alone.
Though the transition has been challenging, if only because of the speed with which it had to be done, it has come with a silver lining.
Eliel Fos, outreach coordinator at Kehilat HaCarmel near Haifa, noted that while the regulations have hampered outreaches, there is a positive development.