When Rev. Richard DenUyl closed the doors to the Federated Church of Edgartown in March, he wasn’t sure how he would continue holding weekly worship during the pandemic.

He began by teaching himself the basics of Garage Band.

The result was a half-hour podcast he created on his daughter’s laptop. To his surprise, the program was wildly popular, with parishioners on and off-Island tuning in on a weekly basis for Bible readings, sermons and song. Reverend DenUyl is also using an online platform to initiate theological discussion about the current moment, accepting questions from congregants via email which he then uses as a guide for his sermons.

First Congregational Church of West Tisbury plans to continue Zoom services this summer. — Ray Ewing

Reverend DenUyl is not alone in employing creative solutions to the current crisis.

Phase One of Gov. Charlie Baker’s plan to reopen the state, which allowed for the re-opening of houses of worship assuming they met safety standards, went into effect on May 18. Religious institutions on the Island struggled with this decision, noting the challenges of holding services in small enclosed spaces and the risk of such gatherings for congregants, many of whom are at high risk due to age.

Many churches have decided to continue online worship this summer—whether pre-recorded, via Zoom or livestream.

Richard Taylor, president of the trustees board for Union Chapel, said the church will hold virtual worship throughout the summer season but postpone other programming—such as public forums and concerts—until next summer. This includes delaying the celebration of the church’s 150 year anniversary.

“Our demographic mix is age wise and profile, kind of in a risk category...and the risk just was not worth it,” said Mr. Taylor. “We are planning vigorously for 2021,” he added.

Mr. Taylor will be the first speaker for the summer series, beginning July 5.

Despite the restrictions of the pandemic, some church leaders said there have been unforeseen benefits.

Grace Episcopal Church in Vineyard Haven will continue online services this summer. — Ray Ewing

Rev. Cathlin Baker of the First Congregational Church of West Tisbury noted that moving online allowed for seasonal residents to take part in services this spring.

“It feels like any walls that divided us, the ocean that divided us, or states that divided us...have come down,” she said.

Sharon Gamsby, co-coordinator of Martha’s Vineyard Bodhi Path Buddhist Center, echoed this sentiment, noting that virtual meditation has enabled teachers and meditators to engage with the center from afar.

Some institutions have found the push to modernize an exciting one.

Rev. Stephen Harding of the Grace Episcopal Church said they have begun hosting worship with the Cathedral of St. Paul in Boston via Zoom, further broadening their community.

“I think its a huge benefit,” he said. “[The pandemic has been] really challenging...but...it’s also exciting to be doing church in a new way and to reach more people.”

At the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center, Rabbi Caryn Broitman is working to bring texts and prayers specifically related to issues of the current moment—like illness and being at home—into the conversation.

“Our main goal is to continue to provide spiritual, social and also educational programming,” explained office manager Max Jasny. “There’s plenty of texts in our tradition that can inspire.”

St. Elizabeth's, St. Augustine's and Good Shepard Parish will hold indoor and online church services. — Ray Ewing

The Hebrew Center also plans to invite guest rabbis and musicians to join their summer programming.

Some institutions said they plan to continue hosting online programming even after they open their doors again, because of its accessibility.

In addition to conducting services online, Rev. Michael Nagle has already opened the doors to the Catholic churches he serves, holding two services weekly at Good Shepherd Parish in Oak Bluffs, St. Augustine’s in Vineyard Haven and St. Elizabeth’s in Edgartown, along with daily mass at St. Elizabeth’s.

In accordance with government restrictions, Reverend Nagle has requested that worshippers stay with their family pods while at church, leaving every other pew in the space empty. He has also removed singing from the service and requested that all congregants wear masks and use hand sanitizer when they arrive.

“People are very happy to be able to come back,” he said. “It’s been a trying time for everybody and we’re just happy that we’re able to start gradually moving towards some kind of normalcy.”

In addition to indoor worship, Reverend Nagle said he plans to host services in the Oak Bluffs Tabernacle on Sunday afternoons in an effort to invite worshippers who are uncomfortable with being inside. Other religious institutions are also considering hosting outdoor programs later in the summer for a limited numbers of participants.

Rev. Chip Seadale of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Edgartown said that although it has been a challenging time, the pandemic has also offered an opportunity for the community to reflect on the importance of religion during moments of crisis.

“Church is all about health and wholeness, mind body and spirit,” he said. “And now we have to pay attention to that.”

Church services around the Island.