Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024|
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The Rev. Eric S. Anderson stands in the sanctuary at the Church of the Holy Cross on Friday in Hilo.
Mark Zier, pastor at Christ Lutheran Church, stands at the front of the sanctuary by his recording device on Friday in Hilo.
Although Easter marks one of the most joyous days of the year for Christians, churches around the world will largely be empty of celebration today.
With the COVID-19 pandemic raging on, churches have reduced their Sunday services to online only, and Easter Sunday, despite its place of prominence in most Christian faiths, is no exception.
But despite the celebratory nature of Easter — the holiday, which celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ, typically coincides with a spike in church attendance each year — congregants seem willing to postpone their communal celebrations until after the pandemic ends.
“I think we’re all impressed with the reality of the situation,” said Eric Anderson, pastor at the Church of the Holy Cross in Hilo, which will host a live-streamed service today at 10 a.m.
Bruce Anderson, director of the Hawaii Department of Health, last week advised churchgoers to limit their attendance in order to maintain social distances of six feet or more. While he saw no problem with some churches experimenting with a “drive-through”-styled service, where congregants remain in their cars, he warned churchgoers to “stay on guard” over the Easter holiday.
Mayor Harry Kim also issued a plea on Wednesday for the island’s faith community to limit itself to virtual church services only.
“We want everyone in the faith community and all of our community to stay healthy and safe, while getting the spiritual comfort that comes from worship in these difficult times,” Kim said in a statement. “Please attend the virtual church of your choice, and stay healthy and safe.”
The Church of the Holy Cross’ congregants have largely adapted to their new, online-only church services, which Anderson said are made “as worshipful as possible, given the limitations of the medium.”
In fact, the strengths of the medium might actually outstrip its shortcomings. Mark Zier, pastor at Christ Lutheran Church in Hilo — which will post a pre-recorded Easter service video to its website at 8 a.m. today — said some of his church’s streams have attracted more virtual congregants than traditional services have.
“I think we’ve been getting about 400 viewers, depending on the service,” Zier said. “And it’s people from all over, too. People in Australia, in Arizona, all over the world. I’m not really sure how they’re finding us.”
Zier said he assumes congregants are sharing the live-streams with friends and family around the world. But other congregants may not have that luxury.
Chris Oda, an administrative assistant at First United Protestant Church, said some 50% of her church’s congregation are elderly or have limited access to the internet.
“We’re trying to send newsletters to them, because that’s what they’re used to,” Oda said. “But everything’s changing so fast around them.”
Oda said the church — which will post its Sunday service on Youtube — has requested more technologically savvy relatives of congregants to visit their families to share in the church services together, particularly during the Easter holiday.
Zier added that, during more normal times, the Lutheran Church would hold two Easter services, with a church brunch event between them, to allow churchgoers without nearby families to “celebrate with their church family.”
Unfortunately, he went on, no such event will be possible this year, but he hopes the church can make up for that when the pandemic ends.
“We’re assuring people that we’ll do some sort of resurrection celebration when this is all over,” Zier said, promising what he called “a grand Easter celebration” later this year.
Meanwhile, Anderson said the need to observe the Easter holiday has never been greater.
“The point of the service is to tell the story once again,” Anderson said. “People were alone and fearful back then, too, and they believed the worst had happened. But then, in front of an empty tomb, they learned that death does not win. Love does.”
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