Easter in the time of the COVID pandemic

By: Colleen Romaniuk, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Sudbury Star
Easter is typically a time for Christian communities to gather; to remember and celebrate together. The pews would typically be filled with families on Easter Sunday. Not in 2020, and now not in 2021, either.
Easter recalls Jesus’ death by crucifixion. The Last Supper’s institution of the Eucharist and his Resurrection are central beliefs of Roman Catholicism and other Christians.
In Year 2 of the pandemic, there are multiple ways to still practise your faith.
It is all about safety in a time when we are asked to limit contact and stop the spread of COVID.
Faith leaders have been following evolving provincial regulations, as well as mandates from public health units. Limiting numbers has been important. At Easter, there is perhaps a stronger desire to be observant. Like Christmas, there is a potential for a larger attendance. As a result, churches have developed protocols that still allow for devotion.
In 2021, churches of all denominations are providing options for parishioners. Many have published guidelines on how to worship during the Pandemic.
The Most Reverend Thomas Dowd, recently installed Bishop of the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie, said we should recognize Easter is not a single event, but a series of days that make up Holy Week.
“The Easter Triduum – from Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday – are very important to Catholics. Our Diocese stretches from North Bay all the way to Wawa so participation can be 15 per cent in the grey zone and 30 per cent in other areas.”
To control numbers, people are asked to phone ahead and reserve space. It is not just numbers but contact tracing.
“Our WorshipSafe protocols, a Catholic application of COVID guidelines, were established by the Bishops of Ontario and are in place to protect the public.”
Calling it “innovative” the Bishop invites you to go to the Diocesan website dioceseofsaultstemarie.org/easter-at-home-2021 for details and suggestions specific to Easter.
“There even is a training video on how to renew your baptismal vows.”
If attending in person, Bishop Dowd says you can be “assured we will have hand sanitizer at the entrances, and that no one gets in without a mask.”
Some parishes have bought low-range FM broadcast systems for those who wish to remain in their vehicles.
“We are also modifying some of the rituals. Communion is still shared as they are core elements of the mass.”
Issuing a formal decree, Thursday’s traditional washing of feet is cancelled, and movement has been cut to a minimum.
“For example on Good Friday during the procession for the Veneration of the Cross, people are invited to venerate from the pews, it will then be placed outside for people to pass by as they depart the church,” Bishop Dowd said.
Pastor Rev. Thomas Arth of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church identifies that technology has been helpful in adapting to the challenges: “When in-person worship was suspended over a year ago, we immediately started streaming worship services live on the church’s Facebook page. It was learning on the fly.”
Because he can’t visit, he makes many phone calls.
What will his sermon be this weekend? “I try to convey is that God knows our difficulties and our struggles. The message of the cross and resurrection is that God’s love will go to any length for us. Many people have died during this pandemic. I’ve presided at a few funerals. My own father-in-law died in December.
“But the Easter message is that God’s love defeats even death and we are assured that death does not have the final victory, that death is not the end.”
What about for those in need? What does Easter bring to them? The Eglin Street Mission is doing a ham hot meal.
“I feel like we used to do so much more. We have so many awesome volunteers who want to help,” says Amanda Labreche-Robichaud. “.. But sadly we have had no religious services since last year. We normally would do an Easter service but there have been limitations on gatherings.”
Executive director the Samaritan Centre, Lisa Long, identifies that the vulnerable population of Sudbury faced multiple social barrier before the Pandemic.
“Now we’ve come out of the darkest part of year. We welcome the message of hope and resilience that Easter brings. We are going to get through this. We hold hope with them. There have been vaccination clinics for our community. It’s springtime and you can see the horizon.”
Pastor Bob Walsh ministers the Markstay Pentacostal Church. “We have no problem being at 15 per cnt attendance. Everyone is really cautious.”
His long involvement with The Elgin Street Mission “… was one of the highlights of my life. On the street, solace and hope are tough to recognize. I did ‘street-flavoured’ church for this community.  We tried to have a special meal. The child within us remembers Easter and its message.”
What does Easter 2021 mean for Walsh? “There is hope for the future.  There is something beyond this. Beyond the pandemic. God wants us to get through this.”