(CNN)A church pastor dedicated to bringing joy amid difficult times is using humor to help social distance his congregation during Sunday services.
Ray Cannata, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New Orleans, printed and taped hundreds of signs encouraging churchgoers to sit apart by referencing Bible scriptures with a funny twist.”Jesus sat the 500 down in rows. But not this one,” reads one sign. “Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born, and if he were here today, he still wouldn’t be allowed to sit in this pew,” reads another.After seeing similar signs online, Cannata said he was inspired to bring some humor into his own church as it gradually reopened for in-person services.Read MoreOn July 11, New Orleans entered Phase 2 of Covid-19 restrictions, which allowed houses of worship to reopen limited to 50% of permitted occupancy or 250 people. Only 100 of the 1,000 available pews at Redeemer Presbyterian are open, with at least 20 feet between each person on a pew during church services, Cannata said. As of Monday, Louisiana has seen at least 138,485 coronavirus cases and 4,526 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data.“Things feel really grim right now,” Cannata told CNN. “So we printed up the signs to give people something to smile about. People are coming into the church to worship and celebrate, but they’re worried about getting sick or making someone else sick. Everyone’s wearing masks and giving each other space. It’s all stuff we aren’t accustomed to at all so this just helps lighten the mood.”Cannata first put up the signs in June when houses of worship reopened with limited capacity.Finding ways to spread hope and happinessCannata, who has experience leading numerous congregations, isn’t an ordinary pastor. When he isn’t wearing his robe and preaching to the choir, Cannata, the 51-year-old father of two dresses up as Elvis Presley. He is also a member of the Krewe of the Rolling Elvi, a New Orleans group who pay homage to the King of Rock and Roll by dressing up as him while riding scooters. Ray Cannata, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, dressed up as Elvis Presley with his Elvi krewe at the Iris Parade during Mardis Gras season..Originally from New York, the Presbyterian minister moved to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in hopes of bringing the once small church back to life after most of its congregation left because of the hurricane. Accompanied by 17 worshipers who attended his first service after the storm, the small group spent years rebuilding more than 500 homes in New Orleans. Ten years later, the church is now a second home to thousands of worshipers.”The storm knocked the group down to just 17 trauma victims. I had no clue what I was doing or how to grow this tiny, sad traumatized group. But I learned through adventure,” Cannata said. “Katrina helps me cope with Covid-19 when I start to worry or doubt myself.”These days, in addition to bringing his community laughs through the newly installed signs, Cannata has also served as a source of emotional support for many. Since the beginning of the pandemic, he has written letters in the form of living eulogies to remind members of the congregation of their worth and importance while helping them stay strong.”We got through Katrina and God showed up and even prospered us,” he said. “We can get through this pandemic if God chooses.”