QUINCY — In another sign of normalcy returning to the area, local churches have been getting ready to welcome back congregations back for one of the Christian calendar’s biggest days.
Stay-at-home and closure orders went out just before Easter in 2020, forcing churches to find new ways to reach out at that time, and for most of the past year.
The Lenten season of 2021 has already seen steps being taken toward normal services. Msgr. Leo Enlow of the Church of St. Peter in Quincy said services leading up to the Easter weekend have seen the doors open and masses being celebrated.
“Last year, we didn’t have the traditional celebrations for Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday or Easter,” Enlow said. “This year, while we’re still mindful of the situation, we have been able to celebrate in person again.”
The Rev. Todd Hastings of the Bethel Assembly of God said his congregation has started coming back in larger numbers in the last few weeks.
“We actually did fairly well, even during the closed months,” Hastings said. “Last year, we expected the closings to be short. ‘We’ll be back by Easter’ I said. Obviously that didn’t happen, but our Easter service, with the live-stream viewers, was probably the largest we’ve ever had. Several thousand people watched the service. We would break things if we tried to squeeze a few hundred in here in person.
“But you can’t underestimate the power of in-person contact,” Hastings continued. “Isolation can be truly harmful. We can stay in touch with social media, through Facebook and Twitter, but it can’t completely replace being there.”
Hastings said Bethel Assembly had already begun doing online outreach and streamed services even before the pandemic, and they fully intend to keep that channel open.
“It’s really great to know you’re reaching people wherever they are, even if they’re in other states,” he said. But, he added, “it’s fun to be in a church, too.”
Enlow said there are very few changes to the services themselves at Saint Peter. Some things, like the sign of peace, are being conducted with waves instead of handshakes, and taking communion from a communal cup will still be absent.
“We’ll have two sections that are less restrictive in social distancing,” Enlow said, “but there will be areas marked off for spacing, and some areas of the church won’t be available at all.”
Hastings said the message Bethel Assembly has been using leading up to Easter is “There is light beyond the tomb.”
“It’s the message of Easter,” Hastings said, “and it’s the message of COVID. We’ve all been in a type of tomb for the last year. But there is light beyond the tomb.”