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N.H. Houses Of Worship Rethink Roles, As Routines Upended by COVID-19

Alexius Horatius/Creative Commons

Most Fridays, between 300 and 400 people gather to pray at the Islamic Society of New Hampshire's mosque in Manchester. But starting Friday, the doors will be locked -- and there won’t be any more gatherings until further notice.

The Islamic Society is just one of many houses of worship in New Hampshire canceling gatherings for the next several weeks, in an effort to prevent any spread of the coronavirus.

Sheraz Rashid, secretary of the board of the Islamic Society, said the Manchester mosque attracts a diverse age group, from kids to the elderly, which is one population group that’s vulnerable to COVID-19, the coronavirus.

“The decision was made: Look, we need to cancel everything for the betterment and safety of our community, because if one person gets it, then you know we have a lot of vulnerable people that can easily get it, and we don’t want to have that happen,” he said.

Rashid said the recommendation is for people to pray at home. And while people won’t be praying together, he said that the New Hampshire Muslim community is well-connected online, often sharing words of support and links to CDC recommendations about ways to prevent spread of the virus to make sure people are well-informed.

“We’re still the patrons of support, and we’re going to uphold that as this pandemic is spreading,” Rashid said.

Many churches are also canceling worship services for the next several weeks.

Bishop Rob Hirschfeld, who leads the Episcopal Church of New Hampshire, sent an email to the 47 Episcopal congregations saying that starting on March 22, there would will be no church services until April 5.

"It's going to be hard because church is for many people their primary means of social networking, social contact, socializing,” he said. “It's the means by which we avoid isolating from one another."

Hirschfeld says he's encouraged congregants to keep in touch with each other by phone, email or in very small gatherings in the next few weeks. 

“If you have not already done so, please use the coming Sunday and the days after to create phone trees and form prayer partners by which you can stay in closer touch during this time,” he wrote in his email to congregants.

He plans on streaming worship services from Chapel of All Angels in Diocesan House starting next week.  But he says he’s aware some congregants don’t have internet access, and is figuring out how to address that issue.

At the First Congregational Church in Hopkinton, the Reverend Gordon Crouch said in an email that he will mail copies of his sermons for those who aren’t online.  

Another challenge Hirschfeld and others are thinking through is how to continue providing other services to the community while still practicing physical distancing. Some churches have food pantries, others offer spaces for people who are homeless to sleep, and others host Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

“We’re really loathe to close those down because they’re necessary,” he said. “These are life and death services for people facing addiction or poverty.”

One potential way to address this is by extending food pantry hours so people have more flexibility on when they come in.

But Hirschfeld says some good may come out of all this.

“It could be a way of reimagining of how we live more deeply into our faith, how we love our neighbors, how we care for one another,” he said.

Daniela is an editor in NHPR's newsroom. She leads NHPR's Spanish language news initiative, ¿Qué Hay de Nuevo, New Hampshire? and the station's climate change reporting project, By Degrees. You can email her at
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