(Reuters) – Online, on television and even in their cars in church parking lots, American Christians will, due to the coronavirus pandemic, observe an Easter Sunday unlike any they have lived through.
Lawyer Jessica Pride drives her husband, dressed as the Easter Bunny, as they try to bring some joy to the kids in their neighborhood during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Solana Beach, California, U.S., April 11, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Governors and health authorities across the United States have broadly asked residents to avoid gathering in large numbers, leading to the closure of schools, businesses and churches.
The COVID-19 respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus has claimed more than 16,000 lives across the United States and infected more than 450,000 people, with officials predicting the worst is yet to come.
Major U.S. religious institutions, including Roman Catholic dioceses and Protestant churches, have found alternatives to safely celebrate the holiest day on the Christian calendar.
The 2,200 members of the Rock Springs Baptist Church in Easley, South Carolina, are turning to technology.
Reverend Jim Cawthon, 46, said he expects hundreds to spend Easter services in their cars in the megachurch’s parking lot, watching the proceedings on big outdoor screens and listening to its broadcast over local radio.
More will likely watch online, which Cawthon said should be easier as the church recently upgraded its video and internet systems.
“Just prior to this all going crazy, we were already set us up,” Cawthon said. “It’s all about the cross and celebrating Easter even in a pandemic.”
Some older adults in retirement communities are celebrating Holy Week by playing music and video broadcasts of services. Some communities are holding contests, asking residents to decorate golf carts for Easter and leave them parked outside for judging, instead of holding annual golf cart Easter parades.
Curtis James, a youth pastor at the Tate Springs Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, dreamed up the idea of holding a safe Easter egg hunt for children with the online videogame Minecraft. Other churches have joined in as the plan has garnered national attention.
The Home Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, has held a sunrise Easter service for almost 250 years, weathering even the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, as well as the two World Wars. But for the pandemic, the service is canceled and will be replaced by an online and locally broadcast service with just a preacher and few choir and band members providing music.
A handful of churches have bucked social distancing rules aimed at slowing the disease’s spread and plan to go on with services on Sunday, with some pastors predicting divine protection from the disease.
Most Catholic dioceses across the United States have shut down all in-person worship services.
Archbishop Jose Gomez of the Los Angeles diocese wrote to priests and parishioners across the nation online to hold steadfast.
“Future generations will look back on this as the long Lent of 2020, a time when disease and death suddenly darkened the whole earth,” he wrote, referring to the 40 day period that precedes Easter. “This Holy Week will be different. Our churches may be closed but Christ is not quarantined and his Gospel is not in chains.”
In Columbus, Georgia, the St. Anne Catholic Church found a unique way to fill up its pews for Easter Sunday.
More than 650 parishioners of the 1,500 member congregation sent in “selfie” photos of themselves that the priests taped to the pews, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
“Now we look out and see faces,” pastor Robert Schlageter told the newspaper.
Most United Methodist churches plan to close their doors and stream services on social media.
Allen Newton, an assistant district superintendent in the Alabama-West Florida United Methodist Foundation, which oversees 569 churches, has said in media interviews that he is disappointed.
“To preach on Easter Sunday is the pinnacle of the year for a pastor,” he told the Tennessean newspaper. “To not be able to do that weighs heavy on us.”
Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Scott Malone and Rosalba O’Brien