(AP) — For Christians across the United States, Easter services on Sunday (April 4) will reflect an extra measure of joy as the nation experiences rising optimism after a year of pandemic. Even if still observing restrictions, many churches may draw the largest numbers of in-person worshippers in months.
In Houston, the Rev. Meredith Mills is eagerly anticipating a return to in-person worship Sunday in the sanctuary of Westminster United Methodist Church. Except for a few Christmastime services that drew a handful of people, the church has been worshipping on its front lawn since October.
“Many of our people are two weeks past their second shot of vaccine, so the comfort level is a lot higher now,” said Mills, who had her own bout of COVID-19 in January. “It almost feels like we’ve been in Lent for a year, and we are ready for Easter.”
Mills recently made a video of herself walking through the empty sanctuary and reflecting on a year of realization that God is everywhere — in people’s homes and “even over Zoom” — but sacred spaces remain vital.
“So this space is about to reopen,” she said. “On Easter Sunday we are going to be masked and distanced … but we’re going to gather and we’re going to sing, ‘Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia, Alleluia.’ We’re going to let the ‘Alleluia’ ring off of these walls.”
At Mary, Queen of the Rosary Catholic Church in Spencer, Massachusetts, there will be an indoor service Sunday for up to 200 worshippers — 40% of capacity — and an outdoor service that can be heard over parishioners’ car radios.
“Everyone wants to be back … but some chose not to out of caution,” said the Rev. William Schipper, the pastor.
At St. Barnabas Lutheran Church in the Chicago suburb of Cary, attendance inside will be limited to 50, but there also will be an outdoor service. The Rev. Sarah Wilson said that during the past year, the congregation has endured “fear, exhaustion, change, confusion, irritation, disappointment, doubt.”
But “now that more of us are getting vaccinated, we’re also experiencing some hope,” she said via email. “Each time a parishioner tells me they’ve gotten a shot, I’m so happy.”
Similarly, the Rev. Bob Stec of Saint Ambrose Catholic Church in Brunswick, Ohio, said his parish’s theme for this Easter is “Alive in Christ,”
“Across our world we have all experienced a year of dying,” he said. “After a difficult and challenging year, we are ready to walk into a future full of hope.”
Stec’s church will be open for in-person worship, but for those still wary about gathering inside there will be drive-through communion, and a depiction of the Stations of the Cross visible from the parking lot.