As the Easter holiday is seen as a day of new beginnings by many churches in the High Country, several congregations have adapted their services to be online because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some have been meeting virtually since the beginning of the virus outbreak, while some are taking the opportunity to live-stream Easter services on April 12.
Bethany Lutheran Church in Boone has been hosting Worship at Home since March 15, according to Pastor Laura Weant. For the first three weeks, Weant used email and traditional post mail to distribute shortened copies of the week’s worship, including scriptures, songs, videos for the children of the congregation and an audio recording of the full sermon.
Weant said that the number of congregation members who have joined in worship services from home nearly matches the number of regulars who would be in the pews, “plus some extras that church members have invited.”
“That first Easter, the disciples were huddled up in a room together, feeling separated from the rest of the world, uncertain about what was happening, uncertain about the future, and the risen Jesus showed up. I think that speaks to where we are right now,” said Weant. “The truly beautiful thing about this distancing period is that, for once, pretty much the whole world is on the same page, and we’re all pulling together to put others first.”
Despite the pandemic, Bethany Lutheran Church is still working with Green Valley School to prepare food boxes, and the congregation members have started a “three-a-week” ministry, which asks individuals “to open up their church directories and call three different people each week, just to check in and see if there are any needs.” Weant noted that some congregation members have also taken to making homemade face masks and headbands for local medical staff and nursing home staff.
The Rev. Andrew Hege of St. Mary of the Hills in Blowing Rock said that on Easter morning, April 12, “the bells at St. Mary’s, along with those of Episcopal parishes across Western North Carolina, will ring for five minutes to proclaim Easter joy for all to hear.”
Services from St. Mary’s have been online, both Wednesdays and Sundays, since March 15, but Hege says that not being able to be with the congregation physically during Holy Week, the week from Palm Sunday to Easter, has been “difficult.”
“Gathering for worship in a virtual space continues to be both exciting and challenging. The Christian faith is one of presence — God came among us in the person of Jesus; gathering together in community is at the core of who we are as followers of Jesus. Not being able to physically gather, most especially in this holy season, is difficult. However, it is exciting to see the creative ways we are finding to be together, even when we cannot physically gather,” he said.
To maintain close relationships with parishioners, congregation leaders have called every household in the parish to check in, which has helped them to assist one another with obtaining necessities as well.
Hege said that the celebration of Easter can be closely related to the resurrection of Christ and the peace that his disciples felt upon seeing him risen.
“It’s that peace, a solace which is beyond our comprehension, that God invites us to receive in this season of anxiety and uncertainty. There is no place of isolation, no feeling of fear, no sense of hopelessness that the love of the living God cannot reach – this is the heart of Easter joy.”
“What continues to fill me, and nearly every person from our congregation I speak to, with gratitude is the way we continue to see our community supporting one another, rising to meet the needs of each other in this challenging season of our common life,” Hege said.