BOSTON (AP) — For many Christians in the US, this weekend marks the first time since 2019 that they will gather in person on Easter Sunday, a good opportunity to celebrate one of the holiest days of the year together with other parishioners.
The pandemic broke out in the country in March 2020, just before Easter, forcing many churches to turn to online or televised worship. Many continued to hold virtual services last spring after a deadly wave of coronavirus in the winter and as vaccination drives continued to ramp up. But this year, more churches are opening their doors for Easter services with few COVID-19 restrictions, in line with broader social trends.
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Among them are Catholic parishes in the Archdiocese of Boston, which since last June has once again required most parishioners to attend Mass in person, though those with health risks can still watch remotely, and are has asked pastors to make room for social distancing in churches. .
MC Sullivan, chief of health care ethics for the archdiocese, said celebrating Mass in community is important to how Catholics profess their faith. Church attendance has been on an upward trend and parishioners are excited to gather again to commemorate the resurrection of Christ.
“It has been wonderful to see how crowded Mass is right now. … It seems to have gotten a lot of people back to the idea of what’s important to them,” he said.
While most pandemic restrictions have been lifted, some area parishes are holding Easter Sunday services outdoors, including a 6 a.m. sunrise Mass near the waterfront in South Boston.
Hundreds of people lit candles in the sprawling Cathedral of St. Paul, Minnesota, after Archbishop Bernard Hebda blessed the fire and lit the Paschal Candle to open the Easter Vigil service Saturday night.
The centuries-old cathedral echoed with the singing of the congregation as candles flickered in the darkness. Well past 8 p.m., wide-eyed children mesmerized by the little llamas and chanters far outnumbered the people wearing masks: The archdiocese rescinded all COVID protocols on April 1, while allowing faithful and individual parishes to maintain precautions if they so wished.
Similarly, the nearby Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, which became a community center during the protests over the killing of George Floyd in 2020, removed its mask requirement beginning on Palm Sunday and returned to shoulder-to-shoulder communion. shoulder on the rail instead of on the benches. Ingrid Rasmussen, the pastor, said Easter attendance was expected to be similar to pre-pandemic levels, but split between those in pews and those joining remotely.
Christ Church Lutheran, an architectural landmark also in Minneapolis, is taking a cautious approach to relaxing COVID protocols. But while masks and social distancing measures are in place, there was an indoor Easter Vigil on Saturday night, followed by a gospel procession to the center of the sanctuary on Sunday.
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“The gift of being in the same physical space for the first time in three years is so beautiful and comforting,” said Miriam Samuelson-Roberts, the pastor. “We don’t take it for granted.”
Peace Lutheran Church in Baldwin, Wisconsin, was celebrating Easter in the sanctuary again after spending 16 months hosting services, baptisms and funerals in the parking lot, surrounded by fields and dairy farms. But the services continue to be broadcast through social networks and local television, which has managed to attract people from other communities.
“One thing I am sure of is that if we were to restrict our gatherings, for whatever reason, we would certainly leverage our resources to ‘meet people where they are,’” said John Hanson, pastor.
In New York City, Middle Collegiate Church was gathering for its first in-person Easter service since 2019, just not at its historic Manhattan church, which was destroyed by fire two Decembers ago.
As they rebuild, they share space at the East End Temple, where Rabbi Joshua Stanton will offer a prayer during the Passover celebration, at a time when the synagogue observes its own Easter holy days.
The Rev. Jacqui Lewis, senior minister at Middle Collegiate, said everyone will have to be “vaccinated and masked,” and attendance at the 190-person temple will be capped at 150. Service leaders, in addition to singers and choir musicians, they quickly took COVID Testing. Coffee time will be outdoors, in the park across the street.
“We will miss him, but we will not hug each other for passing peace. We will greet each other,” Lewis said. “We are watching the numbers and will rotate as needed to stay safe.”
Just north of the city in Westchester County, the Bedford Presbyterian Church was also closely monitoring local infection rates and following public health guidelines. The congregation will be divided into two in-person Easter services to allow for social distancing, sanctuary windows will remain open, and the church will use heavy-duty air purifiers.
“Ministers are juggling many concerns and expectations as we approach our third Easter with the threat of COVID,” said the Rev. Carol Howard Merritt, senior pastor. “We know that the church avoids isolation and builds community, so we try to find ways to worship in person and online.”
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