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Island faith leaders look to renewed hope and peace: Continuing on through lockdowns and worries

Reverend Robert Griffin, pastor of Shelter Island Presbyterian Church, recently realized one of many truths that have emerged from the pandemic.

“COVID has tested our characters, but more importantly, it’s revealed our characters,” Reverend Griffin said. “Sometimes in wonderful ways, sometimes in quite other ways. COVID has done that in our town, in our country and in the world.”

He, along with other faith leaders, is looking at an Easter and Passover markedly different from the spring of 2020, when COVID locked down in-person services for most of the significant holy days of the Christian and Jewish traditions.

It will still be a different day at the Presbyterian Church from Easters past. “We won’t have a full house,” the pastor said, and social distancing and mask-wearing will be mandatory. “There are many folks who still don’t feel safe, which is understandable, and they can watch online.”


For all of the local congregations, Zoom has brought the teachings to many for more than a year.

Father Charles McCarron, pastor of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, said that with the church building locked down by order of the diocese for most of the spring, summer and early fall of last year, Zoom services took over. In-person services were allowed in October along with the virtual option.

But then the winter surge in COVID cases happened and closed down the church again in early January. “It was the Feast of the Epiphany, the Three Kings Day,” Father McCarron said, an ironically cruel day to take something away, when the meaning of the day is about giving gifts.

It had been difficult conducting services virtually, he said. “It was all new. I wasn’t even in the church, but in the library, just me, sitting in a room.”

He was more than happy when the church welcomed parishioners back to the church on March 14. But in the end, Father McCarron said, being at church was secondary. “I’ve often said that, God forbid, if the building burned down tomorrow, we’d still be a church.” One gift COVID provided was that he and his parishioners “were forced to consider what it means to be a church.”

Hosting the pre-Election Day Ham Dinner every year, or the St. Nicholas Fair means so much to the congregation and the Island as a whole, Father McCarron said, “but is that really what we’re here for?”

Never alone

Like Reverend Griffin, Father Peter DeSanctis, pastor of Our Lady of the Isle Roman Catholic Church, learned an important lesson taught by the pandemic. “Virtue and goodness are contagious,” he said, noting how people came together and were, for the most part, willing to help one another in a time of crisis.

He also found that Holy Communion, the centerpiece of the Catholic Mass, was “the vaccine, preparing individuals and the community for eternity.”

Those dual lessons will be part of what he will impart to his congregation on Sunday during in-person services.

Mass didn’t stop being celebrated even through the long months when Our Lady Of the Isle was closed to in-church services. Father DeSanctis said Mass every day, alone in the church. At times, he said Mass alone in the early hours after midnight. Asked what kind of emotions he experienced, being all by himself in the church, he said he really wasn’t alone, since his faith proclaims that the Mass is for all the living and the dead, Catholic or not.

“I was grateful and happy,” he said.

This week, Holy Week, has restrictions for Holy Thursday and Good Friday rituals with no public events, Father DeSanctis said.

For Easter, all of the pastors spoke of the central mystery of Christianity, known as the Paschal mystery, of the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus, which is inspiration in all the lives of the faithful.

Reliving Exodus

Rabbi Berel Lerman of the Center For Jewish Life–Chabad in Sag Harbor said, “This year, as we celebrate the second Passover since the outbreak of COVID-19, there’s an added relevance of leaving Egypt and the confines brought upon us by the pandemic.”

With the hope of life returning to normal, he urged his congregation to “not forget about spiritual freedom.”

Rabbi Lerman shared thoughts with his congregation about the inspiration of the story of the Exodus. “It could not come at a better time,” he added. “Last year many of us celebrated Passover in lockdown. The past year has been challenging and restricting.”

Jewish sages have said that in every generation “a person must consider himself or herself to have left Egypt,” the rabbi said. “Egypt does not just refer to a geographical location, rather it is a state of mind. The word Egypt in Hebrew means confinement. We all have our own forms of confinements which hold us back from achieving our potential. This year as we celebrate Passover and relive the Exodus, let’s resolve to break free from any mental, emotional, physical or metaphysical confines that hold us back from achieving our God-given potential, and experience true spiritual freedom.”

The last word

Jim Pugh, a spokesperson for the Shelter Island Friends congregation, said there had been no need to shut anything down this past year, since this year they met in the Sylvester Manor woods off Route 114, even during the winter months. Mr. Pugh noted that there had been less people coming to the meetings, “Because a lot of people just don’t want to go out.”

He’s hoping that will change now with warmer weather on the way, and the Quakers, who have been here since 1652, will come together for faith, seeing what is around them and searching for what is within.

Father McCarron said an Easter sermon can be a kind of a layup for a pastor. “Easter can make a great preacher out of a very poor one,” he said with a laugh. But by digging deep into the themes of resurrection and renewal, people can look at their own lives and be inspired.

Reverend Griffin agreed. He could speak about the “idea that we’re living in a world where death and ending seem to have the last word, but Easter teaches us about resurrection — that death doesn’t have the last word. But God does. Now, life and rebirth are more poignant than ever with COVID.”

Island Easter Services

Our Lady of the Isle

• Good Friday: Commemoration of the Passion, 3 p.m.

•Holy Saturday: Easter Vigil, 7 p.m.

•Easter Sunday Masses: 8 and 10 a.m.

•Easter Sunday Mass at 10 a.m. will require a reservation.

Please email [email protected] (preferred) or call 631-749-0001, extension 10 and leave your name, phone number and number of people attending.

Reservations are not required for the Easter Vigil Mass on Holy Saturday at 7 p.m. or Easter Sunday Mass at 8 a.m. There will be no regular Saturday Mass at 4 p.m.
Easter Sunday Mass at 10 a.m. will be live-streamed on Facebook.

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church

• Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, 7 p.m.

• Easter Vigil Saturday, 7 p.m.
• Easter Sunday, 10 a.m.

All services will be in person.

Shelter Island Presbyterian Church

• Worship Service is heldon Sundays at 10 a.m.

The Church is not holding a Good Friday Service this year. The First Presbyterian Church of Southold is holding a service and has invited the Island’s congregation join them.

The service will be in the Sanctuary, Friday evening, April 2 at 7 p.m. In-person attendance is by reservation only and reservations can be made by calling the church at
631-765-2597. Everyone is welcome.

The Good Friday service will also be on their website on Saturday April 3 if you wish to see it there: