The Newman Center

The Newman Center near the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's City Campus as pictured on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Despite churches canceling in-person mass and services being held online for Easter celebrations, the strength of people’s faith is persevering.

Pastor Adam White from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Lutheran Center said gathering to worship is central to congregational life, but challenges have arisen in the time of social distancing. White said people need faith and a community and many church leaders at UNL have been working hard to try to find creative ways to gather virtually. 

“Nobody’s canceling church,” White said. “You can’t cancel church. The Church is the Body of Christ. The church is just ‘deployed’ right now; it can’t gather physically.”

White said the Lutheran Center has been holding livestreams and pre-recordings of mass for people to watch, but they have decided not to hold an Easter service. White said they are holding a vigil overnight on Maundy Thursday and a Good Friday service on Zoom.

The Newman Center’s website includes a statement that says parishioners can stay connected by joining their daily mass streamed from St. Thomas Aquinas. They are also providing video updates from their priests and missionaries and students can reach out to the center if they wish to connect or if they have any questions. 

On Wednesday, Father Robert Matya from the Newman Center posted a letter to friends of the center expressing how in the course of a month life has been turned upside down with events like weddings, weekend retreats, the year-end dance and mission trips canceled. 

Matya said all events and public gatherings have been cancelled through the end of May, but they have created an online spiritual resource for the time being.

“Life will continue to be challenging for all of us in the weeks and months ahead,” Matya said in his letter. “The Newman Center’s leadership has also taken these events very seriously.”

Victor Mpore, a junior integrated science and biochemistry double major, said he thought it was wise for churches to have services and mass online since it’s important for churches to take care of their congregation. 

As a frequent visitor at the Newman Center, Mpore said having services online and following the guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is the best thing they can do for their congregation.

Sam Thomsen, a sophomore biochemistry major and a social chair at the Newman Center, said although it’s been difficult for him to be unable to see people in person for religious events and services, his faith has grown. 

“It’s been a lot easier to have a more personal relationship with God since I have more time to drive me towards my faith,” Thomsen said. 

Thomsen said the social chairs' main goal is to help the student community join and attend the Newman Center by having weekly community nights and planning formals. 

However, Thomsen said trying to recruit students to the Newman center is difficult now since they can only reach out to students online and on their website. Thomsen said they had to cancel their annual spring formal as well.

Despite the pandemic, parishioners said the Newman center is otherwise doing well. Thomsen said the online services they’re providing have been a huge help to him and others. 

“The online services provide mass and other religious services online, but there’s also psychological help and spiritual help,” Thomsen said. “Also, the online service is where members have been trying to plan make-up events and events that people can do at home like writing letters to those in assisted living.”

White said if the events of mass and services being canceled have shown anything, it’s that people are diving more into their faith than they have before.

“In Christianity, we proclaim that God fully enters into human suffering and abandonment in the person of Christ,” White said. “God in Christ is always closer to those who suffer and are alone. I think many are apprehending this closeness of God amidst this pandemic.”

White said there’s a countless amount of faith-based content from churches being put out right now. White said instead of doing things alone on Easter, people should join a livestream or prerecorded service with their families. 

Mpore said he is still going to try to reach out to his family and friends for Easter, and Thomsen said he is planning to watch the online service, spend time with family, then go to his job at an assisted living facility. 

“I think that for people who find joy in the traditional ceremonies of Easter like the special masses and such, this will be a very difficult Easter,” Mpor said in a text. 

White said families can set aside times to pray, read the Bible together and create spaces to lament, to share their frustrations and fears as a family. 

“We trust that God is God even when we can’t do what we’ve always done,” White said. “We don’t need to recreate everything we’ve done in the past; we need to ask, what’s the faithful thing to do today?”