As people across the country brace for what could be an agonizing night of slow election returns followed by post-election pandemonium, churches are stepping in to offer moments of quiet prayer.
It’s perhaps not even worth mentioning that this year’s election is different from any that have come before. Not only are we living under a president who refuses to say that he will peacefully concede should he lose, we are also facing unprecedented logistical challenges. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, states are seeing historically high levels of mail-in ballots, which take longer to count than in-person ballots. There’s a good chance we won’t even have election results by election night. All this to say, there’s a lot of uncertainty at an already stressful time. Responding to the anxieties of their communities, churches are offering their constituents a safe haven.
“The idea is to hold a space for folks in the community who are feeling anxious or who would like a prayer or blessing or a space to meditate,” said Jabe Ziino, a member and an elder of Old First Reformed, a church in Brooklyn that plans to staff a prayer booth on their 7th Avenue stoop all day on Nov. 3. “We’ve never done this for elections before. But I think this is an exceptional situation where the level of anxiety and grief and concern is very great.”
Ziino added that because of coronavirus, the church building will not be open; instead, the prayers will take place outside. He also said that the booth is open to anyone who passes by, not just to members of the church.
Old First is not the only religious institution to hold a special prayer service tomorrow. In fact, a national initiative for a Day of Adoration on Nov. 3 has reached more than 600 parishes across the country. It’s even attracted churches in other countries, like Germany, Mexico and Canada, even though they don’t have their own elections this week. The Day of Adoration was created in mid-October by Unite Our Nation. The apostolate, started by lay people this summer in the wake of violence and unrest in Madison, Wisconsin, organizes apolitical processions throughout the country.
In that same vein, the idea behind the Day of Adoration is to advocate for peace instead of protest. “Across the nation people are anxious, neighbors against neighbors, with polarizing statements all over social media and the airwaves,” Unite Our Nation’s website states. “As a people of faith, we turned to God, and were inspired to ask Catholic churches to open wide their doors to Christ by offering adoration on Election Day.”
Among the churches that have signed up to participate in the Day of Adoration are Our Lady of Lourdes Church, located in Queens Village. Patrick Longalong, a pastor there, emphasized that while he hopes to offer some solace to people on Election Day, he doesn’t intend to have political or policy-related discussions.
“If we talk about politics or engage in that, we’ll just go in circles,” Longalong said. “It’s just going to generate more stress, more anxiety, more pressure. Right now, our job is just to help people de-stress.”
Longalong was particularly drawn to the Day of Adoration, which he came across through a Catholic news network, because of the trauma his community has faced over the past few months. In the early weeks of the pandemic, Queens Village was one of the neighborhoods most affected by COVID-19, and Longalong said the church lost many of its parishioners to the virus.
“There are a lot of things to pray for,” he said. “This added pressure of the election and how things are going to pan out after the results come through— we just want to be with people during that high stress time.”