Purpose Church, a non-denominational congregation in Pomona, 30 miles east of Los Angeles, had held its Easter services virtually or outdoors the past two years because of the pandemic.
On Sunday, nearly 4,000 congregants came in person to the church’s newly renovated sanctuary for three morning services, with many still watching virtually and others seated outside watching the proceedings on a 40-foot LED screen. This was also the first service in two years featuring the full 150-member choir, band and orchestra, said Tina Tong, worship producer for the 152-year-old church.
“It’s a sweet homecoming in so many ways,” she said. “We’re gathering in our new space, which is also special.”
A much smaller Southern California congregation – about 25 people – gathered on the beach in Pacific Palisades for a sunrise service conducted by Pastor Joe Ramirez, founder of Revive LA, an inclusive Lutheran congregation.
“We watched the sun come up, talked about the resurrection and shared the message that hope is alive,” he said.
Because of the pandemic, “Our congregation has gotten used to being outside because people are more comfortable, and they can bring their pets,” Ramirez added. “We had three dogs at this morning’s service.”
In Minnesota’s Twin Cities, there were differing approaches to COVID precautions as Easter arrived.
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, which became a community hub during protests over George Floyd’s killing in 2020, ended its mask requirement as of Palm Sunday and returned to shoulder-to-shoulder communion at the rail instead of in the pews.
Ingrid Rasmussen, the pastor, said Easter attendance was expected to be similar to pre-pandemic levels — but split between those in pews and those joining remotely.
Christ Church Lutheran, an architectural landmark also in Minneapolis, was taking a cautious approach to loosening COVID protocols — masks and social distancing measures remain in place.
“The gift of being in the same physical space for the first time in three years is so grounding and beautiful,” said Miriam Samuelson-Roberts, the pastor. “We do not take it for granted.”
Hundreds of people lit candles in the vast Cathedral of St. Paul after Catholic Archbishop Bernard Hebda blessed the fire and lit the Paschal Candle to open the Easter Vigil service late Saturday.