For many churches, Easter is the most crowded service of the year as Christians around the world celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. This year, though, the in-person attendance will be almost universally 10 or fewer, thanks to stay-at-home requirements in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Some Texas churches will take advantage of the governor’s new guidelines that allow for drive-in worship, but others approach Holy Week with an increasingly familiar virtual approach, planning services online.
“We’re just trying to be creative and maximize the opportunity that is in front of us,” Rev. Don Gibson, pastor of MercyGate Church in Mont Belvieu, said.
“Easter’s about an empty tomb,” he said. “Jesus is no longer in the grave.”
Gibson said that, according to scripture, there were at most seven people actually at Jesus’ tomb on Easter morning—well within today’s 10-person maximum.
“Easter’s never been about the crowd. It’s been about what happened after Easter that makes the impact.”
“Easter’s about life-change,” he said.
For the week leading up to Easter, the church will post online devotionals by church leaders Monday-Friday, each about five minutes long. Then, on Friday night it will post an intimate online worship time with Communion.
On Saturday, in place of the traditional children’s Easter Egg Hunt, the church will offer bags of decorated eggs that families can pick up, drive-through. They will be distributed one to a car while the supply lasts.
Then, Easter Sunday morning, the church will live stream two services live; one at 8:30 and one at 10:45. The services remain online for re-broadcast on demand on the church’s app or at www.mercygatechurch.com.
“Just trying to do what we do but out of the box, a little differently,” Gibson said. “We’ll just reach out and try to be the church to people right now.”
For one Baytown Church the Holy Week services that were supposed to introduce the congregation to its brand-new building will just do so virtually, as Cedar Bayou Grace Church is making the move to its new facility on Highway 146 at Ferry Road while activities are cancelled by social distancing requirements.
The church will have its now-usual Facebook Live services on Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday at 8:30 a.m. (traditional) and 9:45 a.m. (contemporary). There will also be a devotional for Maundy Thursday.
“We’re trying to reach out to people through online services and phone calls and such like that.”
They are not going to try the drive-in approach. “Although it’s safer doing the drive-in services, it’s problematic in some ways,” said Rev. John Newsome, pastor.
“We’re working through this and trying to figure out the best way to be wise but not paranoid. We really want to make sure we follow [John] Wesley’s admonition to ‘Do no harm.’”
The scheduled April 19 Consecration Service for the new building has been postponed, Newsome said, but the move is going forward.
The new sanctuary was used for live-streaming last week, he said, and will continue to be. No more services will be held in the old building, which was heavily damaged by Hurricane Harvey.