By Dnee Sirichantaropas
Rev. Nicholas Granitsas sat in his office, praying, while across town, his long-time friend and parishioner, Roland Morse, was buried alone. Granitsas looked up at the crucifix, his hands shaking underneath the fluorescent lights. He wished he could be with his friend during his final moments. But the dangers of COVID-19 made it impossible.
This has become Granitsas’ new reality. He was no longer able to perform rituals or fulfill his usual duties. When Morse died in the ICU at Massachusetts General Hospital, he was one in a long line of Granitsas’ parishioners who will meet the same fate.
“I should’ve been there,” Granitsas said. The two men were friends for over 40 years. Granitsas officiated Morse’s wedding ceremony in 1985 and was saddened that he couldn’t perform his funeral services. “He was on the verge of death,” Granitsas said. “And I wasn’t able to be there with him.”
Congregational churches and worship services, long known for their adherence to tradition, have been significantly transformed due to the pandemic.
More than 90 percent of regular churchgoers in the United States reported that their churches closed to prevent the virus’ spread, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center.
Prior to the pandemic, about 175 people regularly attended Sunday services, Granitsas said. Now, about 30 people attend Mass. “Before the pandemic, we had three hardcore regulars in their 90s that never missed a single service,” Granitsas fondly recalled.
The Church has been offering live stream resources for those unable to attend in-person, he said. “Our attendance for live services has greatly reduced,” he said. “But actually, I think we have more altogether because we have people watching on the stream.”
Dr. John H. Ewart, director of Pastoral Leadership at the Southeastern Baptism Theological Seminary, said counseling classes and crisis intervention classes are part of the pastoral care training.
However, no amount of training could have prepared church leaders on how to shepherd their congregants during the pandemic.
“It’s been a huge shock to try to walk through the minefield of a church during a pandemic,” Ewart said.
According to Ewart, there has been an increase in ministers’ resources on how to handle the pandemic. Centers for preaching and pastoral leadership, faith, culture, and missions have released special resources that range from podcasts to panel discussions and blog posts.
“There was not a class that was designed for COVID,” Ewart said. “But it will certainly be a part of the curriculum from now on.”
One of the most difficult challenges Granitsas has had to face is losing close friends and people he considers family.
When Granitsas and his family first moved to Revere in 1970, the friendly couple next door would always come over to help out and babysit Granitsas’ young child. “They both died of COVID a month ago,” he said. Although Granitsas feels disheartened by all the losses, his faith remains unbroken.
“I still have this joy that no one can take away from me,” Granitsas said. “It’s a gift from God.”
Granitsas came to Revere and helped make the Church flourish by establishing specialized ministries, which range from annual Gospel music festivals, ESL classes, to the Food Pantry, according to Loralei Lauranzano, the Church’s administrative assistant.
Lauranzano, who has known Granitsas for more than half of her life, said he always lifted everyone’s spirits. His joy was constant and contagious.
“Every year, we have church picnic and play softball,” Lauranzano said. “And Pastor Nick is our pitcher every year. All day long. Every age plays. He pitches and he calls and just laughs and enjoys the whole time.”
Local parishioner Lisa Sturgis said that finding her way to the Church and to Granitsas changed the trajectory of her whole life. She still looks back to 1979, the year she discovered the Church, as a pivotal point in her life.
“Pastor Nick was always prepared for his sermons,” Sturgis said. “He is very knowledgeable and always encouraged people to be who God has called them to be.”
He has always been warm, genuine, and encouraging, Sturgis recalled. To be able to have that level of caring was a gift.
“The thing that shines most brightly in him,” she paused, “is that he cares about people in a way that is palpable.”
As Granitsas ended his solemn prayer honoring Morse, his thoughts return to his parishioners, who need his strength and leadership now more than ever.
He made the sign of the cross and stood up. Mass was about to begin.
“I have the sense that God is with me,” he said. “He’s going to see me through and see others through too.”