For many, Easter Sunday marks a return to in-person worship

BOSTON (AP) — For many American Christians, this weekend marks the first time since 2019 that they will meet at…

BOSTON (AP) — For many American Christians, this weekend marks the first time since 2019 that they will gather in person on Easter Sunday, a welcome opportunity to celebrate one of the holiest days of the year. side by side with other devotees.

The pandemic broke out in the country in March 2020, just before Easter, forcing many churches to resort to online or televised worship. Many continued to hold virtual services last spring after a deadly winter surge of coronavirus and as vaccination campaigns 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 societal trends.

Among them are Catholic parishes in the Archdiocese of Boston, which since last June have again required most worshipers to attend Mass in person – although those who pose health risks can still watch from a distance, and pastors have been urged to make room for social distancing in churches.

MC Sullivan, chief health care ethicist for the archdiocese, said celebrating mass together is important to how Catholics profess their faith. Church attendance is on the rise and parishioners are excited to gather again to commemorate Christ’s resurrection.

“It was pretty wonderful to see how well attended Mass is right now. … It seems to have brought a lot of people back to the idea of ​​what’s important to them,” she said.

While most pandemic restrictions have been lifted, some parishes in the region are holding outdoor Easter Sunday services, including a sunrise mass at 6 a.m. near the seafront in southern Boston.

Hundreds of people lit candles in the sprawling cathedral in St. Paul, Minnesota after Archbishop Bernard Hebda blessed the fire and lit the Paschal candle to open the Easter Vigil service on Saturday evening.

The century-old cathedral echoed with the chants of the congregation as candles twinkled in the darkness. Well after 8 p.m., wide-eyed children fascinated by small flames and cantors far outnumbered people wearing masks – the archdiocese canceled all Covid protocols on April 1, while allowing congregants and parishes individuals to maintain their precautions if they wish

Similarly, nearby Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, which became a community center during protests over the 2020 killing of George Floyd, ended its mask requirement from Palm Sunday and returned to shoulder communion. against the shoulder on the rail rather than on the benches. Ingrid Rasmussen, the pastor, said Easter attendance should be similar to pre-pandemic levels – but split between those in the 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 remain in place, there was an indoor Easter Vigil on Saturday evening, followed by a Gospel procession through the middle of the shrine on Sunday.

“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 don’t take it for granted.”

The Lutheran Peace Church in Baldwin, Wisconsin, was once again hosting Easter at the sanctuary after spending 16 months holding services, baptisms and funerals in the parking lot, surrounded by fields and dairy farms. But the services continue to be broadcast through social media and local television, which has successfully attracted people from other communities.

“One thing I’m certain of is that if we were to restrict our gatherings – for whatever reason – we would certainly stretch our resources to ‘meet people where they are,'” said pastor John Hanson.

In New York, the Middle Collegiate Church was meeting for its first in-person Easter service since 2019, but not at their historic church in Manhattan, which was destroyed by fire two Decembers ago.

While they rebuild, they share space at the East End Temple, where Rabbi Joshua Stanton will offer a prayer during the Easter celebration – at a time when the synagogue observes its own Passover holy days.

The Rev. Jacqui Lewis, senior minister for Middle Collegiate, said everyone will have to be “vaxxed and masked” and temple attendance of 190 is capped at 150. Those leading the service, as well as choir singers and musicians, quickly took COVID trials. Coffee time will be outside, in the park across the street.

“We will miss it, but we will not kiss for passing the peace. We’ll just bow to each other,” Lewis said. “We are watching the numbers and will pivot as we need to stay safe.”

Just north of the city in Westchester County, Bedford Presbyterian Church was also closely monitoring local infection rates and following public health guidelines. The congregation will split 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 a lot of concerns and expectations as we head into our third Easter with impending COVID,” said Rev. Carol Howard Merritt, the senior pastor. “We know the church avoids isolation and strengthens community, so we try to find ways to pray in person and online.”

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Dell’Orto reported from St. Paul, Minnesota, and Henao reported from Pennsylvania.

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