Hamline News

Wesley Center Supports Community During Holidays


Mitigating the spread of COVID-19 by staying home and social distancing has caused disruptions in routines and changes in all aspects of life in the United States, including transforming how religious people worship and celebrate.

In the middle of the Christian Holy Week and the beginning of Passover, and as Ramadan approaches at the end of the month, Chaplain and Director of the Wesley Center Nancy Victorin-Vangerud, Associate Chaplain for Jewish Life Rabbi Esther Adler and Assistant Director of Social Justice Programs and Strategic Relations, Middle East and Northern Africa Region Nur Mood of the Wesley Center have been preparing for and reflecting on these important holidays.

The faith connection offered by religious traditions remains constant but the means of connecting has changed in the time of COVID-19. Both Rabbi Adler and Chaplain Victorin-Vangerud are turning to online videos to share their messages and reach the Wesley Center audiences.

Victorin-Vangerud created a video introducing the April focus on the Holy Days of Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

She also worked with Rebecka Green, Wesley Center communications assistant, on videos for the Christian Holy Week starting with Palm Sunday, which was on April 5, 2020. Holy Week commemorates the last week in the life of Jesus of Nazareth and culminates on Easter, which marks his empty tomb and appearances of resurrection.

“We will also present short videos from two student leaders for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday,” said Victorin-Vangerud.

A video of Hamline Trustee Pastor Mariah Furness Tollgaard will welcome the community to an Easter celebration live stream at 10 am this Sunday on Hamline Church Facebook page.

Passover began on Wednesday, April 8 and ends on Thursday, April 16. The festival commemorates the liberation of the ancient Israelites from slavery in Egypt as told in the book of Exodus. The celebration begins with a communal evening meal called Seder which uses a text called a Haggadah to focus participants on the freedom story. The Haggadah includes rituals that remind participants to “to see themselves as if they themselves went forth from Egypt."

“We are supposed to really empathize with the oppressed, and also with the experience of liberation from oppression and carry that forward into the way we live our lives in terms of how we treat others, especially the stranger,” said Rabbi Adler.

Rabbi Adler is also using technology to keep her community connected during this time.

“Volunteers make phone calls to make sure we reach out to all, especially the elderly and people who live alone,” said Adler. “We are conducting all our worship services via Zoom and Facebook, and doing our best to help people learn how to use these technologies.”

“It has really been amazing to see how quickly the shift was made to worship through social media,” said Victorin-Vangerud. “The physical distancing has meant that there can still be social connecting.”

For those who practice Islam, video worship with faith leaders is not possible.

“We cannot use live stream,” said Nur Mood. “Ramadan evening prayers happen shoulder-to-shoulder in the mosque.”

Ramadan, which is celebrated in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and commemorates the Prophet Mohamed’s first revelation, is observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting, prayer, reflection and community. This year, Ramadan runs from April 23 to May 23 and the community element will be lost.

Islam stipulates that physical health is a priority so the usual gatherings to break the daytime fast and pray together will not happen because mosques are closed in Minnesota and around the world.

“The closures align with statements in the hadith, a collection of writings approved by Muhammad, that stipulated that in the event of pandemic or widespread disease, Muslims should stay where they are,” said Mood.

There is a long history of faithful Muslim, Christian and Jewish people facing disasters such as a pandemic.Historic bubonic plague and cholera outbreaks affected people of all religions around the world. In earlier times, these pandemic illnesses were perceived by some Christians as punishments from the divine. For Jewish people, pandemics brought increased persecution, particularly during the Black Plague of the 1500s.

“Plague has been with humanity, since our early origins,” said Victorin-Vangerud. “We have faced it with greed and abuses of power on the one hand, and on the other, deep compassion, care and community good.”

Today, during the current pandemic, many churches draw on those tenets of compassion and caring.

“Faith can bring us together in generosity and service, even shared sacrifice--as we hold together for the common good,” said Victorin-Vangerud.

A number of Rabbis have created supplemental texts for the haggadah that draw on hope and a legacy of perseverance in response to COVID-19. The adapted prayers acknowledge the losses that maintaining physical distance has created.

In a video for Passover, Rabbi Adler quoted her fellow Rabbi, Noam E. Marans, and said, “On this Passover, when so many are separated from one another at a traditional time of being together, we reach out to one another with renewed love and compassion. When someone is missing from our Seder table, we tell their story as if they are with us. When there is personal sadness, we respond with communal solidarity, empathy, and fortitude.”

That video and others about support for students during this time can be found on the Wesley Center Facebook page.  and Hamline University social media channels (@HamlineU on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram).

Written by staff