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  • Hillels of Georgia

Athens-Area Religious Organizations Find Ways to Connect During COVID-19

The Red & Black (October 20, 2020)

Religious organizations, both on and off campus, have made adjustments to their regular schedule as they navigate the most effective ways to provide community to their members during the pandemic.

University of Georgia Hillel is an organization that is a part of the campus ministries association whose goal is to increase the number of Jewish students who have a positive Jewish experience while attending UGA. An important aspect of Judaism is community, so the organization had to determine ways to achieve community while ensuring the safety of students, UGA Hillel’s Assistant Director Jeremy Lichtig said.

“Students are looking for ways of connection and we are trying to find the best way of doing that while being safe,” Lichtig said.

Watkinsville First Baptist Church has implemented different options for members including an 9 a.m. outdoor service, 10:30 a.m. indoor service and an 8 p.m. indoor service geared towards college students. The church’s goal is to provide as many options as possible, and as protocol changes the church will continue to make further decisions regarding their Sunday services, Communications Pastor Joel Shinpoch said.

“The biggest challenge is just finding a way to still be together while understanding we want to keep people safe,” Shinpoch said. “We are trying our best to connect as we can right now.”

Before the pandemic, UGA Hillel hosted in-person Shabbat meals every Friday night for students to attend. Now, the organization offers Shabbot boxed dinners, “shabboxes,” for the students to drive and pick up every Friday for dinner.

Lichtig said UGA Hillel serves an average of 60 to 70 “shabboxes” to students every week and plans to continue to provide the boxed meals for the spring semester, along with pairing students together for dinner via Zoom.

“This is kind of what [UGA] Hillel was built for, that is, something goes on we can pivot and try to obtain those goals in a different way,” Lichtig said. “We want to be able to be a support structure for anyone that asks for it.”

Watkinsville First Baptist holds its 10:30 a.m. Sunday service simultaneously among three different venues to accommodate for a larger attendance. Along with providing masks and spaced seating arrangements, attendees are asked to register themselves and any guests online to ensure the church can provide enough seating for the service Shinpoch said.

Watkinsville First Baptist requires attendees to register online ahead of the service. It also requires face masks when walking in/out and around the building and enforce social distancing by only opening seats in every other row, senior finance and management information systems major from Suwanee, August Bondeson said.

In addition to in-person services, Watkinsville First Baptist offers an online service where people can log on from their devices at home and stream the message every Sunday.

“What this has taught us is it’s pretty hard to plan too far in advance, and so we are, right now, really just [taking] a week by week approach,” Shinpoch said.

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