Easter Sunday is taking place this weekend. But this is unlike a normal Easter, where worshippers crowd churches to worship, or kids get lined up in the backyard to go on an Easter egg hunt. Most likely, most families won’t have extended Easter brunches, as several hundred million Americans are under shelter-in-place orders and are only allowed to leave their homes for essential trips like going to the pharmacy or the grocery store.
Be that as it may, governors in more than a handful of Southern states have deemed religious gatherings and churches ‘essential services,’ allowing them to stay open despite the inherent risk having huge gatherings of people in small buildings is right now during the Coronavirus pandemic. Though, many churches that have chosen to stay open have altered their services and their building capacities.
Are Most Churches Closed?
Short answer: Yes.
Long answer: it depends on where you live. More than half of states have allowed churches and other religious facilities to remain open despite their risk, and as of April 2, at least 11 of the 15 states that have the highest percentage of at-risk individuals for COVID-19 have not barred religious gatherings. Even so, the CDC and the White House recommends limiting all public gatherings to 10 people or less until the end of April.
A handful of major religious organizations have come out in supporting these social distancing guidelines and keeping churches closed, but other churches have not. One Georgia church — the Church of God the Bibleway — has violated social distancing guidelines more than once and will hold a normal Easter service. One church in Houston, the Glorious Way Church, has taken to online religious services for regular Sundays, but will still hold in-person services on Easter. The Reverend John Greiner said: “We can’t do what God called us to do on a livestream.”
But some disagree. A Miami Archdiocese has already recorded Mass in both English and Spanish which will air on local TV on Easter Sunday instead. Easter Sunday will be recognized with a mixed bag of churches open for services, some doing services in the open air, others doing services in a drive-in movie setting, and others going straight to live stream.
Will Churches Re-Open?
Several churches have planned to re-open for Easter Sunday services, even if they’ve been holding teleservices for weeks as a result of the social distancing guidelines put forth by the federal government. While some churches have stated that they would adhere to social distancing guidelines for their service and limit the capacity of worshippers who are allowed into the church, as well as establish hand-washing stations.
Churches will likely be open in states where churches have been designated an exempt business like Louisiana, Tennessee, West Virginia, New Hampshire, Delaware, Michigan, and Mississippi. Oklahoma, Missouri, and Arkansas have not issued any orders to close any non-essential businesses.
How Will People Celebrate?
Many churches have already recorded Easter mass and will be airing it on local television. Others plan to live stream services so worshippers can practice at home. Some churches have attempted a drive-in-theatre style worship where people sit in their cars to attend service.
This week also marked the beginning of Passover. Many Jewish Americans celebrated Passover, which is normally marked with a feast at the beginning of the week-long holiday, by doing Zoom and Skype meals so people and families can worship together, from a great distance.
And for the “fun” aspects of Easter — i.e. the egg hunts — some parents are taking to the internet to do virtual egg hunts.