The Public Relations Society of America Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter (PRSA SE WI) is excited to share a series of blog posts from its Diversity & Inclusion Committee. This blog series features stories about how diverse communities have experienced and responded to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the inclusive communications efforts they employed.
The novel coronavirus pandemic has flipped paradigms on much of modern society. For faith-based communities, the pandemic has shaken individuals and organizations to their core. Public religious services, rites, and activities in various places of worship ceased. Events celebrating holy observances such as Easter, Passover, and Ramadan were cancelled. Not to mention the weddings, baptisms, funerals, and many more practices disrupted.
In Southeastern Wisconsin, many spiritual groups and organizations have found incredible ways to reach out to parishioners as well as give back to communities in need. These are just a few stories from those diverse faith-based communities.
Making Their Online Presence Known
One of the more visible local initiatives has been The Catholic Comeback by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Masses have been locally televised and streamed from the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, recently allowing a very limited number of in-person guests. Those masses are archived on The Catholic Comeback webpage, adding to the online spiritual repository that includes devotions, reflections, and guides on returning to mass. Several pieces of content are also provided in Spanish. Site visitors may also donate to the Archdiocese’s Coronavirus Emergency Fund to help communities in need during the pandemic.
The Milwaukee Shambhala Center closed its doors as COVID-19 spread, but its Shambhala Buddhism teachings remain open through its robust online offerings. Meditation sessions, courses, trainings, and open houses occur virtually. The center even provides virtual Café Shambhala on Saturday mornings that include group meditation, a reading, and group discussion. Following recent instances of police brutality and racism, the center gave words of encouragement on its website to the Black community and has an online Racial Justice Group Meeting every second Sunday.
Bringing the Spirit to Social Media
Christ The King Baptist Church in Milwaukee has used its Facebook page to keep in contact with its congregation and share vital information. Church services are streamed live and posted for worshippers every Sunday, and posts share when take-home communion sets are available through its socially distant drive-thru. Church leaders share bible passages, prayer calls, and praise dances on the Facebook group in addition to non-spiritual information such as COVID-19 infographics, voting site guidance, job postings, and congratulatory messages to the congregation’s 2020 college and high school graduates.
The church has also found ways to mark special days and anniversaries using the social media platform. Throughout the month of June, Christ The King’s Youth Ministry presented prayer vigils, movie nights, and snack deliveries. A Youth Day post on Facebook featured submitted video from young church members in their homes and an on-screen message from its youth director. Celebration of Christ the King Baptist Church’s 35th annual Founder’s Day came to Facebook as well. Church leaders tuned in virtually from each of their homes to share stories of the church’s founding and continued growth in a posted video.
Continuing to Serve the Community
The Milwaukee Jewish Federation has been part of the city for more than a century, and that community participation has not been slowed by the pandemic. One look at the federation’s Jewish Community COVID-19 Resources page demonstrates its continued service. A searchable directory allows worshipers to find Milwaukee area synagogues that are Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, Reform, and unaffiliated. In addition to virtual spiritual education and Shabbat services, site visitors may enjoy online social gatherings as well as virtual exhibits from Jewish Museum Milwaukee. The Milwaukee Jewish Federation also provides information for those who need assistance with rent/mortgage, food, mental health, kids wellness, and much more.
The Muslim community in Milwaukee has nine Mosques, the largest being the Islamic Society of Milwaukee (ISM). ISM’s mission is to “serve all of God’s creation with mercy, justice and respect for human dignity,” and that service continues through these difficult times. During the pandemic, ISM raised tens of thousands of dollars from its members to assist those suffering financially. The ISM also provided free lunches to hundreds of children every day with the Salam School drive-thru lunch program, that serves all faiths.
Business members of the Muslim community also found ways to assist. Hayat Pharmacy distributed 3,200 free masks and gloves in early April and Aladdin’s MKE provided regular breakfast and lunches to health care workers at various medical campuses. Hanan Refugee Group assisted refugee families who lost their jobs and many of the area’s Muslim-owned restaurants offered free meals. The Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition – which operates Our Peaceful Home, a family strengthening program considered a vital service – remained open to assist individuals and families in distress, as well as offering webinars on self-care and stress relief.
Takeaways for Communicators
Though the pandemic has shaken us, it has not broken us. That unbreakable spirit can be seen by these and many other religious communities. A Pew Research study shows that one-quarter of U.S. adults say their religious faith has strengthened as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. Americans in historically Black Protestant churches and those who describe themselves as very religious are particularly likely to say their faith has strengthened. How religious communities found ways to keep the faith during the pandemic offers a number of lessons for communicators.
Websites are a crucial part to any organization, and providing meaningful content and resources allows organizations yet another platform to stay in touch with audiences. A wealth of information is important, but communicators must ensure the information is clear and organized. Regular updating and pivoting to meet new demands will be necessary, especially in uncertain times, but the payoff will be meaningful connections with your audiences.
Nothing replaces in-person services and events. But using virtual platforms and social media allows for messages to be disseminated and fellowships to gather from a safe distance. And if you’re creative in those virtual offerings, your audience will feel just as, if not more, engaged with your communications.
Finally, while our heads may be spinning, our hearts remain in the right place. Organizations can take this opportunity to review and enhance their existing business social responsibility initiatives as well as offer new initiatives to meet the needs of those trying to live in this new world.
McSweeney Public Relations
Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition
Director of Marketing and Communications
Milwaukee Jewish Federation