The Corona Chronicles collection explores and preserves the stories of religious leaders across Texas as they have maintained their communities and navigated the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Throughout the pandemic, religious communities have faced challenges around whether or when to meet in person, what restrictions or guidelines to follow, and how to maintain community when in-person gatherings are not possible. Forms of practice, worship, and rituals have been transformed. And the roles of community and religious leaders have been reshaped. In these unprecedented and uncertain times, this collection delves into how the pandemic has affected the lives of religious leaders, from the mundane to the extraordinary, and how it has led to new ways of being community. It serves to document this historical moment for the future as well as help those living this moment make sense and meaning out of the changing nature of our lives.
This is an ongoing collection and we will be adding more interviews from leaders across various religious communities over the next year.
In December of 2019, the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) was identified and the first reported case of COVID-19 in Texas was identified on March 4, 2020. By the following week, Governor Greg Abbott announced the state would close bars, restaurants and schools starting March 20, 2020. While schools remained closed, the governor fluctuated between closing and reopening restaurants and bars throughout the year. By June 29, 2020, the state of Texas issued a statewide mask mandate.
By the fall of 2020, Texas became the fourth state to report 10,000 COVID-19 deaths while averaging 5,000 weekly cases. Hospitals experienced shortages of beds, first responders lacked proper protective gear, and leading researchers were grappling with understanding the workings of this novel virus. Workers in restaurants, teachers in remote classrooms, farmers in fields, mechanics under hoods, and many more essential workers continued to put their lives at risk to meet society’s needs.
Over the course of a couple of months, the world transformed as everyone adjusted to living in this new pandemic-state-of-mind. People quickly adapted to new norms such as social distancing measures, grocery shortages, and the largest global recession since the Great Depression in the 1930s. On December 11, 2020, the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the first emergency use of the vaccine, allowing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine to be distributed in the U.S. A week later, the FDA approved the Moderna vaccine, and by February the Janssen vaccine became the third and final vaccine distributed in the United States. As of August 2021, Texas is 43% fully vaccinated and 50% have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Efforts across the state aim at increasing this number through the end of the year, but challenges with managing the pandemic may continue as variants of the virus arise.
While the world wrestled with the challenges of this unprecedented time in history, we saw many come together in support of one another: Volunteers running pharmacy errands for the elderly, faith-based communities providing rent aid to those affected by the pandemic, students raising funds for personal protective equipment (PPE). Texas communities are resilient in facing the challenges of this pandemic, and will continue to adapt, find creative solutions, and serve our communities, ultimately working toward a healthier, safer future.
While Texans have been grappling with the pandemic, they’ve also found new ways to have a community:
Using Zoom to stay connected
"When we have challenges in life, it's our place of worship that gives us strength. It just is really heartbreaking to tell people they can't come to the temple, but they have really taken advantage of Zoom. Many people actually have found it easier to open up about things when there's that space. They're on the other side, if they need to tear up or go through something they have that privacy and can come back and talk."
-Brahmacharini Shuchita Chaitanya
As it became increasingly dangerous to meet face to face, people flocked to zoom to keep up with friends, attend religious services, and even for weddings.
Defining Religious or Spiritual Leader
Religious leadership can take shape in many forms. We define religious leadership as individuals or groups leading a community through practices, such as religious worship, devotional and ritual practices, education programming and, or spiritual guidance. These qualities are exhibited in many ways, depending on the needs and dynamics of the community. The collection includes stories from pastors, monastics, chaplains, members of spiritual assemblies, and rabbis, but also those from directors of organizations and nonprofits serving their communities.