By: Diana Gilday
The oldest church in Bayside, Queens is now adapting to the world of virtual ministry due to the coronavirus pandemic.
On March 13, the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, Lawrence C. Provenzano, Zoomed all the clergy in his diocese. On this call, he informed them that no church could hold physical services or other events due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After receiving this call, All Saints Church had to come up with a plan to bring their ministry online.
Compared to other churches, All Saints had a significant advantage in moving online in the form of 21-year-old Teddy Byrne. Byrne currently attends Ithaca College as a television-radio major, minoring in web development in the Ithaca College Honors Program. Due to the pandemic, he was forced back home. However, his being home was very beneficial for his family and church.
“I am so profoundly grateful for the work that Teddy is doing,” says Father Larry Byrne, rector of All Saints and father of Teddy. “His technological ministry has made it possible for there to be a thread of normalcy through this season of abnormality.”
Teddy, since everything moved online, has taken on many responsibilities. He creates video content for weekly services, which includes recording/producing pre-recorded music performances and interactive segments with the congregation and he also runs all church service live-streams. He credits his ability to do this with what he learned from Ithaca.
“Maybe now more than ever, I understand the ways in which my skill set can help my church community,” says Teddy. “I am grateful for all the teaching I’ve received in college.”
All Saints was at another advantage when it came to live streaming due to the fact their church is on the same property as the Byrne home.
“We are lucky,” says Teddy. “Since my father, mother and I live on the church grounds, we were given special permission by Provenzano to live stream the Holy Eucharist every Sunday, as long as it was kept to just us.”
Even with all these advantages, it hasn’t been easy switching to being a virtual church.
“The most challenging part has been being unable to interact with my parishioners in person,” says Father Byrne. “Being a priest is both literally and figuratively a hands-on ministry.“
Father Byrne says that many people have reached out to him seeking answers on how to deal with the crisis and he is struggling with not having all the right things to say.
“I normally know what to do to be of help in times of sickness and death to help families,” Father Byrne says. “I feel somewhat, though not completely, helpless in the current situation.”
The All Saints community has also been hit by the virus, with three parishioners passing away.
“I don't even know what the full impact of these deaths will be yet,” says Father Byrne. ”It is as if in our church family we have lost two grandmothers and the oldest son in the space of three weeks.”
The virus has taken a toll on Father Byrne emotionally, leading even him to struggle with his faith.
“I admit that I have found prayer difficult outside of Prayer Book liturgies, but my faith is not shaken,” says Father Byrne. “I know that God is suffering along with God’s creation, along with us. Because I know that, I know we are not alone in it.”
Despite how hard everything has been, the efforts of All Saints’ father-son duo are far from unappreciated. Stephanie Tonnesen Hornback, an active member of the church community, is very grateful for the chance to still attend mass.
“To be able to continue to ‘go to church’ has been a lifesaver,” says Hornback. “The only standing appointment we have these days is 10 a.m. on Sunday mornings with All Saints Episcopal Church. There is a comfort in being all together, even though apart, praying, singing and worshipping.”
Another who shares these sentiments is 15-year-old Dominique Earle, who has been a member of the church since her parents got married there in 2008.
“When we heard that there were online services, we were immediately on board,” says Earle. “Of course we miss regular services, but what they have started doing that I think was a phenomenal idea was the coffee hour Zoom call, because that’s something that truly brought us together.”
Erika Tonnesen, a mother to one of the Sunday school children, shares the same sentiments of much of the community.
“I will continue to attend church on Sunday mornings until we are all able to be under one roof and chatting over coffee and cake,” says Tonnesen.
The duo is aware of how much their community needs them during this unprecedented time.
“Even though I am sick of being the bearer of bad and sad news, I have the privilege to be a voice of hope,” says Father Byrne.
“I have received numerous compliments on what we have been doing,” says Teddy. “One person said ‘I have been so depressed. This has been keeping me going.’ I don’t feel like it’s important, I know it’s important.”
Teddy, whose friends like to refer to as ‘the eternal optimist’, is still finding silver linings, despite how tough things may seem.
“God works in mysterious ways,” says Teddy. “Something I’ve always wanted in my career is to tell good news, and to bring smiles to faces. Maybe God was showing me something in all of this, only time can tell.”