For many Christians in the US, this weekend was the first time since 2019 that they gathered in person on Easter Sunday, a welcome opportunity to celebrate one of the holiest days of the year side by side with community members.
Notable events included a sunrise mass at 6 a.m. outside near the waterfront in south Boston, and joyful and embracing service in St. Peter Culver, a historic black community in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Another community, mostly black, Watson Grove Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, had hoped for outdoor service in a downtown park. But the rain forced a change of plans at the last minute, and about 700 masked worshipers met at the church’s shrine because of what senior pastor John Pyson said was arguably their biggest internal encounter during the plague.
“We haven’t seen an audience like this in two years,” Pison said. “The eyes lit up. People just felt good.”
The plague broke out in the country in March 2020, just before Easter, forcing many churches to turn to worship online or on television. Many continued to hold virtual services last spring after a deadly winter wave of corona virus and when vaccination campaigns were still intensifying. But this year more churches have opened their doors to Easter services with little COVID-19 restrictions, in line with broader social trends.
Among them were Catholic congregations in the Boston Archdiocese, which since last June has again required most churchgoers to attend Mass in person – though those with health risks may still expect from afar, and pastors have been asked to make room for social alienation in churches.
MC Sullivan, the archbishop’s chief health ethicist, said the Mass celebration in the community is important to the way Catholics express their faith. The presence of the church is on the rise, and members of the congregation are excited to gather again to commemorate the resurrection of Christ.
“It was quite wonderful to see how well the Mass is present at the moment. … It seems to have brought a lot of people back to the idea of what is important to them,” she said.
At St. Peter’s Club in St. Paul, there were voices, applause and jubilant blows on the wooden benches as Pastor Joseph Gifford told more than 200 believers that the Church’s usual sign of peace had returned – no more benefiting from the plague. Or light handshakes.
“The place’s just exploding,” said veteran community member Lint Graham. “When he said we could do it, people were all over the church,” they hugged each other.
Another highlight of the service: the Cameroonian choir’s first appearance – with its vigorous drumming and West African melodies – since the epidemic hit.
“We’re back and he’s up and it’s huge,” choir director Brendan Benta said. “Service in our culture is very solemn, being one in the church – the choir, the pastor, the people. The inability to get to church has created a disconnect we have never experienced before.”
Purpose Church, a non-religious community in Pemona, 30 miles east of Los Angeles, has held its Easter services virtually or outdoors for the past two years because of the plague.
On Sunday, close to 4,000 members of the congregation personally arrived at the church’s renovated temple for three morning services, with many still watching virtually and others sitting outside watching the proceedings on a 40-foot LED screen. It was also the first service in two years with the participation of all 150 members of the choir, troupe and orchestra, said Tina Tong, a cult producer of the 152-year-old church.
“It’s a sweet homecoming in so many ways,” she said. “We are gathering in our new space, which is also special.”
A much smaller community in Southern California – about 25 people – gathered on the beach at Pacific Palisades for a sunrise ceremony led by Rev. Joe Ramirez, founder of Revive LA, an all-encompassing Lutheran community.
“We watched the rising sun, talked about the resurrection and shared the message that hope lives on,” he said.
Because of the plague, “our community has become accustomed to being outside because people are more comfortable, and they can bring their pets,” Ramirez added. “We had three dogs in the morning service.”
In the twin cities of Minnesota, there were different approaches to corona virus precautions when Easter came.
The Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity in Minneapolis, which became a community center during demonstrations on the killing of George Floyd in 2020, has completed its mask duty from Palm Sunday and back to shoulder-to-shoulder coordination instead of on benches.
Ingrid Rasmussen, the pastor, said the attendance at Easter was expected to be similar to pre-plague levels – but split between those on the benches and those who joined from a distance.
Christ Church Lutheran, also an architectural landmark in Minneapolis, has taken a cautious approach to loosening COVID protocols – masks and means of social remoteness remain in place.
“The gift of being in the same physical space for the first time in three years is so grounded and beautiful,” said Miriam Samuelson-Roberts, the pastor. “We do not take it for granted.”
Hundreds of people lit candles in the huge Cathedral of St. Paul after Catholic Archbishop Bernard Habda greeted the fire and lit the Passover candle to open the Easter vigil at the end of Saturday.
The century-old cathedral resounded with community singing as the candles flickered in the dark. Long after 20:00, wide-eyed children fascinated by the small flames and cantors far surpassed people wearing masks – the Archbishop abolished all COVID protocols on April 1, allowing loyal and individual communities to take precautions if they wished.
In New York City, College High School convened for its first Easter ceremony since 2019, just not in its historic Manhattan church, which was destroyed in a fire before December 2nd.
While they are rebuilding, they share a place in the East End Temple – at a time when the synagogue is celebrating its holy Passover days.
Reverend Jackie Lewis, the senior high school minister, said attendance at the 190-person shrine is limited to 150. Those leading the service, plus choir singers and musicians, underwent rapid virus testing.
Dell’Orto reported from St. Paul, Minnesota, and Bharath of Orange County, California. Also contributing were correspondents from the AP news agency Louis Anders Hanau in Pennsylvania and David Cray in New York.
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