A worldwide pandemic didn’t keep area pastors and church-goers from celebrating Easter on Sunday, April 12, though they had to connect in a new way because of the COVID-19 situation.
Following are comments from a few area pastors, who share how they are reaching out to their parishioners in this time of a stay-at-home order that prohibits gathering in large groups.
Father Blake Rozier, pastor at Immaculate Heart Catholic Church in Crosslake and St. Emily’s Catholic Church in Emily, is doing his best to stay in contact with parishioners and others in the community via Facebook Live. Staff members at both parishes are keeping people informed through email blasts and the parish websites.
“My deacons, staff and parishioners have also been good about calling others and checking in, especially those who are not as familiar with technology,” Rozier said in an email.
Many other churches are reaching their parishioners online as well.
Pastor Zach Broom, who recently became pastor at Eagles Nest Church in Breezy Point, said in an email that he never imagined his first Easter as pastor would be preaching to an audience of one.
“I never would have imagined all the empty chairs. Easter is one of the biggest days of the year and the building is usually packed, not empty. But not this year,” Broom said, noting his parishioners met in the parking lot in their cars watching the service “together” on their cell phones.
“It was just me and the sound guy in an empty building, which brought a mixture of emotions,” Broom wrote.
The Rev. Stephen Blenkush at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Pequot Lakes said via email that Holy Week this year was everything from odd to disappointing to amazing as everyone learned to navigate new venues such as Facebook, YouTube and church websites to a greater degree.
That may not be all bad, he said.
“For the individual who has not been part of a faith community, going online is a safe way to test the waters and get a sense of what he or she is going to hear and maybe experience if they were to one day physically visit one of our many and varied faith communities for worship,” Blenkush wrote. “In this sense it reminds me of using my YELP app to check out local restaurants.”
He’s also found it refreshing to “visit” some of his colleagues in worship, “something I rarely get to do,” by watching other services online.
“Like many, I too have parked myself on the couch, attired in something other than my typical Sunday best, with my cup of coffee and tuned into the services of Holy Week,” he said.
Likely speaking for many, Pastor Tristan Borland, of Riverview Church in Pine River, said it was truly sad not to be together on Easter Sunday.
“The COVID-19 crisis and its ramifications are unprecedented for all of us. The fear, anxiety and drastic changes we have all had to face would have been unthinkable just two months ago,” Borland said via email. “If you had told me that we could not gather for public worship on Easter Sunday, I would have thought you were crazy.”
Rozier said perhaps people should celebrate all the more this year, even as they struggle with not being able to be together. As highlighted through Jesus’s Resurrection from the dead, everyone can, and should, celebrate Easter because with Jesus, separation, grief, sickness and even death is ultimately conquered.
Other pastors had similar thoughts.
“I suspect when I reflect back on Holy Week 2020, I will be reminded that God has never promised that our worship services would always be grand, that our churches would overflow, that our economy will always be growing, that our health is guaranteed, or that our lives and futures would unfold as we’d hoped and planned,” Blenkush said. “Rather, at the heart of the Gospel is the promise that God is both with us and for us at all times and through all conditions. In sorrow or joy, triumph or tragedy, gain or loss, peace or fear, scarcity or plenty, God is present.”
Borland said perhaps this is the most important Easter anyone has experienced.
“Our lives have all been drastically changed, but the deeper things still remain,” he said. “Christ is still risen! Our faith is alive and hopefully increasing. Our time with our families is more precious than ever. Our love for God, our love for family and our love for our neighbor can still grow, and these are the things that really matter.”