Holy Week and Easter services looked very different this time last year.
As gatherings were restricted, many churches turned to live streaming or posting videos, utilizing platforms like Zoom, YouTube, or Facebook. Others took less high-tech approaches with drive-in services in parking lots. Some were forced to shut down completely.
And a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, people of faith may feel the meaning of Easter a little more deeply given the past year.
“The story is Resurrection; the story is life and hope,” said Jim Sanders, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church in Dothan. “After the year we’ve had, hope has been in short supply and life has changed tremendously.”
This year, Easter and Holy Week services will look a little more familiar as restrictions on gatherings have been loosened and vaccinations have made people more comfortable about gatherings.
But services will still be socially distanced and congregants will still be asked to wear masks.
“We’ve taken the freedom to gather for granted until COVID,” said Jeff Peacock, executive director of The Ark Dothan and pastor of Liberty Baptist Church in Pansey. “Now, I think it’s a lot more precious to us that we can get together and celebrate because we see how quickly things can happen.”
The annual Good Friday Cross Walk will begin at 11:30 a.m. at First United Methodist Church, located at the corner of West Main Street and Park Avenue in Dothan. From there, participants will take turns carrying the large cross down Main Street to the Dothan Civic Center where there will be a short message and sack lunches handed out by Love in Action ministries before a shuttle returns people to the church.
Last year, the Good Friday Cross Walk – which normally has a crowd – had only three participants, regular organizers who carried the cross just so the event wasn’t canceled due to the pandemic. Peacock was one of the three people who carried the cross.
“I love to celebrate Good Friday because it’s very humbling to think what Christ went through for every single person,” Peacock said. “The cross walk is a great time of reflection to kind of reflect on the suffering of Christ and what that means to each and every one of us.”
Churches have been slowly reopening regular services, but with a limited capacity to allow for social distancing. To keep people safe, churches have continued to ask members to wear masks during services and have continued sanitizing surfaces and providing hand sanitation stations.
Olivia Poole, pastor of St. Luke United Methodist Church in Enterprise, said the church has started to see more people, especially older congregants, return to in-person services because they have been vaccinated.
But the past year has taught them that the church is more than a building, Poole said.
“The church is in a building that you can enter and leave, but the love of Christ that dwells within our life allows us to be the church,” she said. “… The theology of what the church really is, I think, became more and more real during this time last year.”
St. Luke, she said, moved back to in-person services last summer and did so cautiously with protective measures in place. Pews are still roped off to spread people out and masks are worn in the buildings. The church plans to keep live streaming for those not comfortable with in-person services.
Poole said this Easter holds more meaning for many people given the past year just as holidays may have more meaning following other tragic events.
“I do think that there is something powerful about the idea of life overcoming death this year,” she said. “I don’t know anyone who has not been touched by COVID-19 either knowing someone who’s passed away from it or knowing someone who’s become gravely ill from it.”
Peggy Ussery is a Dothan Eagle staff writer and can be reached at email@example.com or 334-712-7963. Support her work and that of other Eagle journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today at dothaneagle.com.