Virtual services, real joy mark socially distant Easter

NICK EICHER, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: celebrating Easter without your church family.

Under normal circumstances, more people go to church on Easter than any other day of the year. But in this age of coronavirus, that’s not happening this year. So how are churches adapting? WORLD reporter Anna Johansen has our story.

ANNA JOHANSEN, REPORTER: At Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton, Illinois, Easter is a really big deal.

WOODLEY: Epic. Truly epic.

Matt Woodley is the missions pastor at Rez.

WOODLEY: You know, every church has strengths and weaknesses. So I would say our biggest strength is Holy Week.

Typically, Rez has multiple services: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, then an all-night vigil on Saturday. It all culminates in a 6 a.m. service Easter morning. Well over a thousand people attend. It’s standing room only.

OSTOICH: The service leader comes out and proclaims Hallelujah, Christ is risen. And the congregation responds, the Lord is risen indeed, Hallelujah.

Christiana Ostoich is the production director at Rez.

OSTOICH: Folks rush out with flowers to decorate the altar. And I’m tearing up thinking about it. We celebrate loudly with bells and shouts…

But this year, things are going to look very different.

WOODLEY: It’s just grief, it’s grief. I just, I feel really sad and a lot of us do. It’s not the way it’s supposed to be.

Rez has had to adjust a lot of plans for this week. And it’s not the only church having to innovate.

DAVID JONES: We had originally had a Good Friday service scheduled that was going to be uh, a concert, uh, with another church.

David Jones is the senior pastor at the Village Church of Barrington in Illinois. The concert got scrapped because, obviously, the choir can’t gather to practice or perform.

JONES: And so we were just thinking initially that Good Friday got canceled. But yesterday we uh, were looking at it again and what we’re planning to do now is I’ve been going through the Gospel of Mark and so we are going to break up Mark 15 and we’re going to spread it out over each of the days of passion week.

Every night this week, the church will livestream a short time of worship, then a mini-sermon on a few verses from Mark 15.

JONES: And so we’ll end on Friday night with, you know, the death of Jesus and then we’ll take a break on Saturday because Jesus is in the tomb and then an Easter Sunday we’ll preach Mark 16 of the resurrection passage.

It’s simple—but it’s not something the church has ever done before. That seems to be a common theme: Thinking outside the box.


Many churches have live streamed their services over the past few weeks. But others have turned to old school methods—like drive-in services.

BRANSON ROGERS: We have been blessed with a huge field here in front of our church and we’re going to attempt to put about 50 to 60 cars out in our front field.

Branson Rogers is lead pastor at The Point Church in Clearwater, Florida. The Point plans to have its first-ever drive-in service on Easter morning.

ROGERS: They’re going to be shuffled into our parking lot by our parking crew and be put into place, each car will have a designated parking place. 

Six feet apart, of course. Gloved parking attendants will hand out freshly baked cookies. Rogers will preach from a stage set up in front of the church.

ROGERS: Then we’ve also got some radio transmitters we’re going to have out there in our field. Everyone is going to be encouraged to tune into a specific FM radio frequency. And they’re going to be able to get our service right there in the comfort of their own car.

Back in Illinois, Church of the Resurrection will use a different strategy: Equipping people to worship at home.

Rez places a strong emphasis on physical interaction and engaging multiple senses. At a typical Maundy Thursday service, Christiana Ostoich says there’s a time set aside for washing feet.

OSTOICH: That one’s really easy to send home with folks and say, okay, we’re going to play music for the next 15 minutes. Take some time to wash the feet of your family members or friends.

Other traditions are harder to do when you can’t gather together. On Easter morning, Rez sets aside a time for everyone to shout, and ring bells, and make noise to celebrate Christ’s resurrection. That’s going to sound different this year. Matt Woodley hopes people will still do it in their own homes or backyards.

WOODLEY: No, it won’t be the same as doing it with a thousand people for 10 minutes.

But Woodley says people shouldn’t feel self-conscious.

WOODLEY: Some of their neighbors might join them.

The church has also put together a prayer guide for the congregation.

WOODLEY: We encourage people to take a 20 minute prayer walk in their neighborhood every day. And then with that we give them some Scripture and something to think about and pray about as they’re prayer walking.

That’s something Rez has never done before. It’s a positive thing that wouldn’t have happened if all was Easter as usual.

WOODLEY: There is also an opportunity and a gift in this desert we feel like we’re in. You usually plan your fasts, but sometimes your fasts are planned for you. So, we have a fast from worshiping together and we really look at this as a time—there is an opportunity here to let that hunger build within us for when we can do that again.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Anna Johansen.

(Photo/Church of the Resurrection)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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