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Pandemic Has Strengthened Faith For Some


Life during the pandemic has brought dark moments, and many people rely on their faith in those times. In fact, polling shows some Americans have become more religious over the past year. CapRadio's Pauline Bartolone reports from Sacramento.

PAULINE BARTOLONE, BYLINE: Church services at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento have been online since March of last year, and people keep showing up.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Singing) We are gathered in the spirit.

BARTOLONE: About three dozen people logged into the service via Zoom one recent Tuesday night. Roger Jones is one of the ministers.

ROGER JONES: Now I invite you to join me for a moment of prayer in word and then in breathing together.

BARTOLONE: This regular Tuesday night service didn't exist a year ago. Jones' church added them right after the closures. And they've been well-attended compared to the occasional services before the pandemic.

JONES: If we had a weeknight service that you had to drive to and you had to drive home in the dark from, we wouldn't have 35 people. And we have more groups meeting online for small group ministry than we had meeting in person.

BARTOLONE: Nearly 3 in 10 Americans say the pandemic has strengthened their faith, according to a Pew poll conducted over the summer. Only about 4% said their faith was weaker. Jones has noticed young adults are attending more regularly.

JONES: This sort of slowed-down pace of life has enabled people to sort of check out places where they can explore the depths of their own souls and where they can connect with other people and affirm values that are deeply important to them.

NICOLE ONETO: The aspect of community care - that's what really drew me in.

BARTOLONE: Nineteen-year-old Nicole Oneto has been logging into the Unitarian services from her hometown an hour south of Fresno. She returned there when COVID forced her Sacramento college to go online. Oneto says she wasn't raised with religion but was always curious.

ONETO: Being at home and being stuck in this one place where we are at the moment, wherever that may be for people, has been a time of reflection. It definitely has been for me.

AMR DABOUR: I have seen a lot of people coming back to God in a way.

BARTOLONE: Amr Dabour is an imam at the SALAM Islamic Center in Sacramento. He says during the pandemic, new people have joined and others have returned to the congregation to deal with all the loss.

DABOUR: They are trying to make sense of this enemy that's sweeping the whole world. Is it a message from God?

BARTOLONE: Spending more time alone and pondering mortality has brought Ras Saddiqui into a more spiritual space. Over the past year, the lifelong Muslim says he's grown more connected to the divine.

RAS SADDIQUI: It's what the heart and mind processes, not necessarily what the body shows. Some people become more dogmatic, and they are into the rituals. And that's fine. I think belief is deeper.

BARTOLONE: Historically, people have turned to religion in times of crisis, says Catherine Brekus, a professor at Harvard Divinity School - the Great Depression, World War II and 9/11.

CATHERINE BREKUS: In most of those cases, the interest did not continue. So these tend to be sort of short-lived moments of more intense religiosity that then fade away.

BARTOLONE: But Nicole Oneto's spiritual path is becoming clear. She's joining the Unitarian Church as one of its newest members.

ONETO: I'm really jumping in headfirst.

BARTOLONE: And when the threat of COVID-19 lifts, she plans to attend services in person.

For NPR News, I'm Pauline Bartolone in Sacramento.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.