AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Andy Brown are asking religious leaders to help reduce COVID-19 spread by hosting virtual services this holiday season.

“We need your continued diligence to prevent reaching a crisis point and urge you to consider taking your holiday services virtual,” the letter read. “We are particularly concerned for the elderly and those whose compromised physical condition leave them more vulnerable. We are so close to getting the vaccine to these neighbors that we feel it is especially necessary to urge their protection now to the greatest extent possible.”

But not all faiths are able to serve their congregations online.

At the South Austin Church, Pastor Jesse Ruby has been trying new ways to reach his congregation. His team of worship leaders have moved to various sanctuaries, purchased new video cameras and toyed with up-to-date editing equipment to get their message to their worshippers.

“Our sanctuary will hold 300,” Ruby said. “But were running with probably like 35 to 40 coming live.”

Despite a few technical hiccups along the way, his congregation has appreciated his hybrid services, serving a small crowd in service while simultaneously streaming it to various online platforms. His church has even grown a following, picking up members as far away as South Africa and Europe.

But other faith leaders don’t have that opportunity.

Rabbi Joseph Levertov said although the request to meet virtually over the holidays is reasonable, it’s not necessarily feasible. It’s against his faith to use electronics on the Sabbath, making Zoom meetings impossible.

Instead, his congregation will meet for a much shorter period of time, outside and socially distanced, as they read from the Torah and light the menorah this Hanukkah.

“We asked people to separate, and they followed through. People were in each area,” Levernov said.

Ruby will follow APH guidance and abandon his hybrid service for Christmas Eve. The decision to host a 100% virtual ceremony was made long before the latest message from city and county leaders as the pastor has tried to continue to build on his church’s online growth.

This Christmas, different members of his congregation will submit pre-filmed clips that will be edited together to make an interactive holiday service.

“They are being engaged. They are filming, and we are editing, and we will put together the services to stream at 10 a.m., 2 p.m., 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve,” Ruby said.

Religious Considerations for a COVID-19 Vaccine

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is addressing moral concerns about the new COVID-19 vaccines and the connections to cell lines that originated with tissue taken from aborted fetuses.

The conference says, “in view of the gravity of the current pandemic and the lack of availability of alternative vaccines, the reasons to accept the new COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are sufficiently serious to justify their use, despite their remote connection to morally compromised cell lines.”

It also says the vaccine is an act of charity and part of our moral responsibility for the common good.

The conference also calls the AstraZeneca vaccine more morally compromised, similar to the rubella vaccine and should be avoided if there are alternatives available.