BOSTON (AP) — For many American Christians, this weekend marked the first time since 2019 that they gathered in person on Easter Sunday, a welcome opportunity to celebrate one of America’s holiest days. year side by side with other devotees.
Notable events included a 6 a.m. sunrise mass outdoors near the waterfront in South Boston and a joyful, hug-filled service at St. Peter Claver, a historically black congregation in St. Paul , Minnesota.
Another mostly black congregation, Watson Grove Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, had hoped for an outdoor service in a downtown park. But rain forced a last-minute change of plan, and around 700 mask-wearing worshipers instead gathered in the church’s sanctuary for what senior pastor John Faison said was their biggest gathering by far. indoors during the pandemic.
“We had not seen such a crowd for two years” said Faison. “The eyes lit up. People felt good. »
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 opened for Easter services with few COVID-19 restrictions, in line with broader societal trends.
Among them were 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 quite wonderful to see how well attended Mass is at the moment. … It seems to have brought a lot of people back to the idea of what is important to them,” she says.
At St. Peter Claver in St. Paul, there were exultant shouts, applause and banging on the wooden pews as the Reverend Joseph Gifford told more than 200 congregants that the church’s usual peace sign was back – no more pandemic-era nods or gentle handshakes.
“The place just explodes,” said longtime parishioner Lynette Graham. “When he said we could do it, people were all over the church,” sticking together.
Another highlight of the service: the first performance of its Cameroonian choir – with its fiery percussion and West African melodies – since the pandemic hit.
“We’re back and He’s risen and that’s huge,” said choir director Brendan Banteh. “Ministry in our culture is very festive, being one in the church – the choir, the priest, the people. Not being able to come to church created a disconnect we had never experienced before.
Purpose Church, a nondenominational congregation in Pomona, 30 miles east of Los Angeles, had held its Easter services virtually or outdoors for the past two years because of the pandemic.
On Sunday, nearly 4,000 worshipers came in person to the church’s newly renovated sanctuary for three morning services, many still watching virtually and others seated outside watching the proceedings on a 40ft LED screen. It was also the first service in two years featuring the 150-member choir, band and orchestra, said Tina Tong, worship producer for the 152-year-old church.
“It’s a sweet homecoming in so many ways,” she says. “We are meeting in our new space, which is also special.”
A much smaller Southern California congregation — about 25 people — gathered on Pacific Palisades beach for a sunrise service led by Pastor Joe Ramirez, founder of Revive LA, an inclusive Lutheran congregation.
“We watched the sun rise, talked about the resurrection and shared the message that hope lives on,” he said.
Due to the pandemic, “Our congregation has gotten used to being outdoors because people are more comfortable and they can bring their pets,” Ramirez added. “We had three dogs serving this morning.”
In the Twin Cities of Minnesota, there were different approaches to COVID precautions as Easter arrived.
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, 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-to-shoulder fellowship 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, was taking a cautious approach to relaxing COVID protocols — masks and social distancing measures 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 don’t take it for granted.”
Hundreds of people lit candles in the sprawling St. Paul’s Cathedral after Catholic 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. Long 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 so wish.
In New York, the Middle Collegiate Church gathered for its first in-person Easter service since 2019, but not at its historic church in Manhattan, which was destroyed by fire two Decembers ago.
As they rebuild, they share East End Temple space – at a time when the Synagogue observes its own Passover holy days.
The Reverend Jacqui Lewis, senior minister at Middle Collegiate, said temple attendance of 190 people was capped at 150. Those leading the service, as well as choir singers and musicians, took rapid COVID tests.