BOSTON (AP) — For many U.S. Christians, this weekend marked the first time since 2019 that they gathered in person on Easter Sunday, a welcome chance to celebrate one of the year’s holiest days side by side with fellow congregants.
Notable events included a 6 a.m. sunrise Mass outdoors near the waterfront in South Boston, and a joyous, hug-filled service at St. Peter Claver, a historically Black congregation in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Another mostly Black congregation, Watson Grove Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, had hoped for an outdoors service at a downtown park. But rain forced a last-minute change of plans, and about 700 mask-wearing worshippers met instead in the church’s sanctuary for what senior pastor John Faison said was by far their biggest indoor gathering during the pandemic.
“We hadn’t seen a crowd like this for two years,” Faison said. “Eyes were lighting up. People just felt good.”
The pandemic erupted in the country in March 2020, just ahead of Easter, forcing many churches to resort to online or televised worship. Many continued to hold virtual services last spring after a deadly winter wave of the coronavirus and as vaccination campaigns were still ramping up. But this year more churches opened their doors for Easter services with few COVID-19 restrictions, in line with broader societal trends.
Among them were Catholic parishes in the Archdiocese of Boston, which since last June has once again required most churchgoers to attend Mass in person — though those with health risks may still watch remotely, and pastors have been asked to make space for social distancing in churches.
MC Sullivan, chief health care ethicist for the archdiocese, said celebrating Mass communally is important to how Catholics profess their faith. Church attendance has been trending upward, and parishioners are excited to gather again to commemorate Christ’s resurrection.
“It has been quite wonderful to see how well-attended Mass is right now. … It seems to have brought a lot of people back to the idea of what’s important to them,” she said.
At St. Peter Claver in St. Paul, there was whooping, applause and exultant pounding on the wooden pews when the Rev. Joseph Gifford told more than 200 faithful that the church’s usual sign of the peace was back – no more pandemic-era nodding or mild handshakes.
“The place just explodes,” said longtime parishioner Lynette Graham. “When he said we could do it, people were all over the church,” hugging each other.
Another highlight of the service: the first performance by its Cameroonian choir – with its spirited drumming and West African melodies – since the pandemic hit.
“We’re back and He’s risen and it’s huge,” choir director Brendan Banteh said. “The ministry in our culture is very celebratory, being one in church – the choir, the priest, the people. Not being able to come to church had created a disconnect that we had never experienced before.”