Walk-up Holy Communion in parking lots? Drive-up confessions for Catholics? Print-your-own palms for Palm Sunday? Videoconferencing worship services?
Practicing faith in 2020 has been anything but ordinary.
And yet it’s a world many live in as the coronavirus has upended many aspects of people’s lives, including the way they pray, worship and congregate this Holy Week and Easter Sunday.
“Well, it’s certainly something that keeps us on our toes,” the Rev. Daniel Weiske said. “There’s a desire to provide the flock with the sacraments and the spiritual nourishment and the prayer and connection that people want to the Lord, to each other, to the (Roman Catholic) Church.”
According to a recent WalletHub study, 56% of Americans who went to church on Easter Sunday last year say they will go to church for Easter this year if their church is open.
“Sometimes, you have to kind of navigate the uncertainty of what’s the best way to provide a ministry … and I’ll say, like everyone else, I miss seeing people face to face, so there’s that longing to actually be together with other parishioners,” Weiske said.
Weiske is pastor of St. Andrew’s and St. Mathias Catholic churches in Crow Wing County. He said the number of confessions he heard went down after people began social distancing, so a screen was erected in the church parking lot.
“In this case, you can drive up to where I am in the parking lot, there’s a screen, so you can go anonymously and you sit in your vehicle, or they drive around to the other side to my passenger side and we can see each other and they can confess face to face,” Weiske said.
Holy Week is the week before Easter, the Christian holy day commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christians believe Jesus was raised from the dead three days after his crucifixion.
“I have no doubt there are others that are shaken and maybe they feel more distant. But then again, I am so happy to see family members that are reaching out to each other, parishioners reaching out to each other, to help get through the anxiety,” Weiske said of the religious observance associated with spring, hope and faith.
On Wednesday, Gov. Tim Walz extended his stay-at-home order until May 4. His order to close bars, restaurants and other places of public gatherings was also extended until May 4.
“I have heard from a lot of people that are just maybe even more grateful than they were before for the things that we took for granted and the blessings of life together as a church, so I think many are sort of connecting to the Lord, even more deeply in this time of need,” Weiske said.
Trinity Lutheran Church
There will be no Sunday worship services at Trinity Lutheran Church in Brainerd. However, the Good Friday service of scriptures, music and candles will be available at the church’s website.
The Easter Sunday worship service can be viewed at the website with Lead Pastor Paul Erdal. Also, a drive-by and walk-up Holy Communion will be offered in the church parking lot from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Sunday with 500 juice boxes at the ready to represent wine or blood of Christ. The Holy Communion station will be about 15 feet away from the trays of juice boxes.
“They will take it from a distance — and we’ll be at a very, very safe distance away — and then we’ll say ‘Given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins,’ and then they will just basically tell him we miss him and we hope to see him soon,” Associate Pastor Hans Anderson said.
Wednesday’s stay-at-home extension comes as the Minnesota Department of Health reported 1,154 cases of COVID-19 in the state of 30,753 tested for the illness with 39 deaths have stemmed from the disease or complications.
“I would say that the way that we’re trying to navigate these waters is with our members’ safety first in mind, with people’s health and safety first. And we’ve been creative and nimble,” Anderson said.
A pre-recorded service from 2017 will be rebroadcast on KVBR-1340 AM at 9 a.m. Sunday, April 12.
Communitas Church is located in downtown Brainerd. The evangelical church harkens back to a group of Swedish-Americans who immigrated to the area in 1882, according to its website.
“This is a huge week for us,” Pastor Mike Garry said. “There’s certainly a heightened expectation or a feeling or a reverence, perhaps.
“So other traditions have certain things that they do, but we don’t really have anything specific. We don’t have palms, so we talked about it in our dialogue, and we may acknowledge it, but our Palm Sunday was pretty akin to any other Sunday.”
Communitas Church’s weekly services start at 10 a.m. Sundays but now they are streamed live via Facebook to avoid close personal contact with other congregation members.
“I think whenever there's a crisis like this or whenever there’s something that produces a little bit more anxiety, you have people that are seeking to deepen their faith, a little bit more in seeking to try to find some understanding and some answers,” Garry said. “The upside is we’re able to connect with people who might not be willing or able to get to a church service, but they have an internet connection, and there are others that don’t have the internet, and we have run into some computer and technological glitches.”
Lakes Area Presbyterian Church
Pastor Mark Ford of Lakes Area Presbyterian Church mailed copies of a palm leaf on green sheets of paper his congregation could cut out for Palm Sunday, which is the week before Easter. As for Easter Sunday, the Baxter church will use Zoom again.
“We are doing our worship services through the (videoconferencing) platform called Zoom, so people who have video connections can see one another … and then people who don’t have computers can call in and be a part of the service,” Ford said.
The church’s website states: “One of the ways that we can show our love for our neighbor is by not spreading the COVID-19 virus by gathering physically. This will challenge us on how we can gather as a community and worship in new and different ways.”
“I may send out some video Easter egg cutouts that people can use to hang in their window or something, but we’re not doing a lot different for worship,” Ford said.
Jill Gonzalez, a WalletHub analyst, stated in a news release that of Americans planning to celebrate Easter this year, around 66% plan to have phone calls or video conferencing, 24% will watch church on TV and about 20% will have indoor Easter egg hunts.
St. Andrew’s Parish
Last year’s Palm Sunday was the first celebrated Mass in the renovated St. Andrew’s Catholic Church on Willow Street where parishioners gathered in the social hall for the proclamation of the Gospel.
“This year, it was just less than 10 of us in the building. … The rest of the Mass continued as usual, except there was no congregation present in the pews, which is always sad, but I was surprised at how many took part electronically,” Weiske said.
Weiske said he is still working out the details of the services and activities that may be offered during Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter Sunday but many of the “beautiful rituals” will likely be omitted because of the governor’s stay-at-home order.
“Easter vigil is such a beautiful celebration after twilight. Usually, we have the lighting of the Easter fire and marking of his candle, which is a symbol of the light of Christ entering the darkness of the world, and a procession with that candle into the dark church,” Weiske said. “But I’m also grateful that we have this technology that we would not have had, let’s say 10 years ago, that allows us to connect for Masses that are streamed or for other prayer services or even face-to-face meetings that were still able to have. So, there are some things that are very beautiful and meaningful that we need to omit this year, but at the heart of it, we're spiritually united to the Lord.”