Believers ready to gather, in many ways, to celebrate Easter Sunday
As Easter weekend 2021 dawns in, it is just over a year since most of the world went into shutdown mode over the COVID-19 virus that has killed 552,000 Americans, 48,000 of which have been Texans and 359 of which have been Grayson County residents.
This year, many local churches are once again open to those who want to gather to worship, but for many, the services look and sound different. And, they are being broadcast in one way or another for those still too concerned to leave their homes.
Local pastors are thankful for the opportunity to meet with their flocks in person but still understand why people are being cautious.
At St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Sherman, worshippers will be confirming to the new normal by having their Easter services outside so they can do something that can't do inside - sing.
"For our regulations right now, we essentially have three things. You must wear a mask at all times, even when we are outside. We can only have up to 20 people or less in our building depending on distancing, everyone must remain six feet apart," Father Wesley Evans said.
And church goers have not been singing together as a congregation because it has been proven that singing is one way that the the virus is spread.
Evans said the church just finished its new parking lot directly across the street and they will hold their Easter Sunday services there. They will remained socially distanced and covered with mask and they will sing their praises to God.
The Rev. Brian Taylor at Forrest Avenue Baptist Church in Sherman said his church will be offering both in person and online services for Easter Sunday.
"We never experimented with online Sunday school as some churches did during the pandemic, but we resumed Sunday school quite a while back near the beginning of the year. The main thing we adopted during COVID-19 was the option to worship with us online here at FABC, and the other option we added was online giving via our website," he said.
The church shut its doors to in person guests twice in 2020, he said.
"Once between the end of March and the beginning of May, and then again when we were particularly hit hard in our congregation between the end of October and mid December. I think there were a total of like 15 weeks last year that were online only. As for our decision to resume in person services, we knew that there was a large portion of our congregation that were ready to come back."
Taylor said his church is a large building that could almost hold 300 people, and normally less than a hundred people are in attendance.
"So in that way we were always operating at around 33 percent capacity," he said. "In the beginning of our return back, we socially distanced, taped off pews, many wore masks, but overtime most people just became more comfortable here."
He said some of the congregation wear masks and some don't.
"Which is fine. We want them to come, and do what makes them feel safer. There are a couple of things that we've still not done though, now that i think about it: Choir has yet to resume, and that has been that way for more than a year now. Also, we have yet to take up the offering by "passing the plate". We just set the plates on the back table, and our folks know where it is, and drop their tithes in the plate on their way out. We usually don't even mention it in the service, but they've just grown accustomed to it. Also we don't do the traditional handshake, and meet and greet in the beginning of the service after announcements like we used to over a year ago. Perhaps one day we can go back to those things. I know I really miss that time of hugging each other's necks and shaking hands."
The Rev. Lander Bethel at First Presbyterian in Denison and Grand Ave Presbyterian in Sherman said like most other local churches, his congregants will participate in a hybrid service.
"This year we are welcoming people back to the sanctuary with the proviso that they have been vaccinated, are willing to wear a mask, to observe appropriate physical distance from others, and recognize the risks of transmission of the virus," he said.
The service will also be streaming the service online so that those who are at home may continue to participate remotely.
"As with many churches and other places of worship, we will be providing a hybrid service, both in-person and remote, which we likely will continue to do," he said. "We have members or friends who may not be able to leave home or prefer to participate remotely. We also have people participating in worship from 4 to 5 other states each Sunday."