virtual

virtual

Sam and Mayra are typically one of the first people to connect to their weekly virtual meetings. Using a TV as a computer monitor, they and their 17-year-old son, Isaac, welcome smiling faces and join in a cheerful chorus of hellos.

At first, Sam and Mayra worried how their family — especially Isaac — would handle the pandemic’s social constraints for months on end. They were relieved to find that despite the challenges, the lively routine of worship and association on videoconferencing with their congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses was filling the gaps — and then some.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had all our friends in our home,” explained Mayra, “and now they’ve been able to be in our home all at one time.”

Hugs and handshakes at their Kingdom Hall were replaced by smiles and waves over videoconferencing when Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide suspended in-person meetings in March 2020 in response to the coronavirus threat.

Since then, this family has been forging friendships in their congregation and with fellow worshipers from as far away as Mexico and Colombia right from a video screen in their living room in Tucson.

Others with more serious challenges to in-person gatherings have seen the silver lining to the temporary transition to videoconference services as well.

A single whiff of perfume from across a room can land Shane Brown in the emergency department — or worse. A new cleaning product sprayed down the hallway in the hospital once cut off his breathing for more than a minute.

Long before COVID-19, Brown was wearing a mask and social distancing due to mast cell activation syndrome, a rare disorder causing life-threatening allergic reactions.

Although unable to attend religious services in person, the 50-year-old from Hollywood, Florida, has kept his faith alive amid unrelenting isolation. For years, a telephone tie-in has been his connection to listen to Bible talks and hear fellow worshipers’ heartfelt expressions in his congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Attending his first videoconferencing meeting, Brown could at last put friendly faces to names and voices he’d heard for years.

“I almost couldn’t contain myself,” he said. “I was so happy.”

Brown’s advice echoes that of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on its “Coping With Stress” webpage, which encourages readers battling pandemic loneliness and depression to connect with community or faith-based organizations.

Weekly worship also helped many to maintain regular routines and structure in life, which “can buffer the adverse impact of stress exposure on mental health,” according to a 2020 review in the Journal of Global Health.

As weeks of lockdowns turned into months, groups of friends in Sam and Mayra’s congregation found creative ways to beat the pandemic blues, organizing everything from virtual talent shows to cooking classes.

“The virtual meetings are very important to us,” said Sam, who noted that his family’s faith has been strengthened over the past year and a half. “We see that it’s very important as a whole spiritual family to be able to continue to upbuild our faith and to be united.”

To connect with a local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, visit the “About Us” section of the organization’s official website, jw.org.

Submitted by Jehovah’s Witnesses