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Passover, Easter Celebrations Adapt to Coronavirus Restrictions

For the faithful, cyber gatherings are the new norm

spinner image A man sitting in a church behind a computer screen wearing headphones as he records the service to live stream
picture alliance/Getty Images

In Covington, Louisiana, the faithful will be praying from their bicycles on Friday as they cycle to landmarks that represent the Stations of the Cross.

Sue Zaunbrecher, a parishioner at St. Peter Catholic Church, came up with the idea to be together – but at least 6 feet apart – for prayer and reflection. She arranged the bike route, and 14 families in the community will be displaying a prayer station in their front yards.

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In past years, Zaunbrecher has done the Novena of Nine Churches, a Good Friday tradition in which participants walk in a processional from church to church — a pilgrimage for Catholics in the New Orleans area.

"We can't do that this year,” she says. “It just popped in my head: ‘Well, let's make our own stations.'"

Religious communities around the world are adapting this year because of COVID-19. This week marks the holiest time of the year for Jews who celebrate Passover and Christians who celebrate Easter. The coronavirus pandemic has put a damper on the traditional Seder gatherings, egg hunts and Easter bonnets. It may not be much of a year for families to be dressed up in their Sunday best for holiday pictures. But it will be memorable.

Patron saint of pandemics

Zaunbrecher's thank-you notes to hosts are bound to be keepers. She is giving them holy cards of St. Corona (yes, there really is one), who some believers say is the patron saint of protection against plague.

Zaunbrecher's walkable, bikeable, drive-by, prayer-amid-a-pandemic idea has already spread to neighboring communities, where people are doing similar walks and biking in prayer.

"People want to be together,” she says. “They want to have community. I think it's beautiful."

Seder in a box

spinner image Rabbi Laizer Labkovski showing the contents of Seder in a Box
Rabbi Laizer Labkovski created Seder in a Box for those who can't be with their families for Passover.
Courtesy Laizer Labkovski

In Buffalo, New York, Jews are enjoying deliveries of “Seder in a Box."

Rabbi Laizer Labkovski, of the Jewish Discovery Center in Amherst, came up with the idea to bring Seder to the people. He had 400 orders from those who want to be part of the traditional Jewish Seder Passover meal ritual, even if it means following an online guide.

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The ceremonial meal includes drinking four cups of wine (or grape juice), telling the story of the Exodus from Egypt, eating special foods such as matzah (unleavened bread) and horseradish and reciting Passover prayers.

Rabbi Labkovski says many of those asking for Seder in a Box are single people or couples who normally would be with their extended families this week.

"People have to take, suddenly, the Judaism home and learn how to do it on their own,” he says.

Zooming in for prayer

spinner image Reverend Tim Tutt performing church services over video conferencing
Reverend Tim Tutt conducting church services using video conferencing.
Courtesy Tim Tutt

Others are adopting cyber services as a way to adapt group celebrations.

At Westmoreland Congregational United Church of Christ, a theologically progressive church in Bethesda, Maryland, they've found creative ways to worship during the time of COVID-19. They're even holding online communion services.

"We have a symbolic approach to the bread and wine, anyway,” says the Rev. Tim Tutt, Westmoreland's senior minister. “So, we're just asking people to bring their own bread and wine, or snack and beverage of their choice” for the blessing.

Each day this week, they've had online platforms for people to participate.

"I would say that when you have a 101-year-old church member who is on that Zoom call listening to that musical meditation, and at the end of it saying, ‘This is wonderful. I'm so glad to be in touch this way,’ you're like: ‘The world is a pretty cool place.'"

But it has also added duties for staff.

"I guess everyone's contract in any job always has ‘other duties assigned as necessary,'” Tutt says. “And so, my staff and I, we're like, ‘I can do a funeral, I can officiate at your wedding. I can baptize your baby — and I can provide tech support for Zoom.'

Technology is bringing higher attendance than in-person services, he says, partly because people who otherwise couldn't come or who have moved way can connect.

Yoga and ‘quaran-tivities'

At Grace Cathedral, a popular Episcopal church in San Francisco, the church has adapted in other ways online. Things like live-streaming and podcasts and have become the new norm — for everything from morning prayers to Bible studies and even yoga. On Easter, streaming will include a quartet of men from the cathedral choir singing beloved hymns.

At Abundant Life, a Southern Baptist megachurch in Lee's Summit, Missouri, with a weekly attendance of 2,000, pastors are hosting “church at home” videos with “quaran-tivities” for teaching, worship and prayer during this time of COVID-19. The church also has a robust social media presence on Facebook and Instagram in addition to live-streaming weekend services.

The strategy is similar at Bayside Community Church, a nondenominational megachurch in Bradenton, Florida, where Facebook church campus groups have grown into virtual watch parties.

"COVID-19, it's kept all of us glued to our TVs, our computers and our devices, and I want to continue to ask you, whatever the CDC and our government, local and national, are saying, just adhere to those regulations, and let's be safe,” Lead Pastor Randy Bezet told his followers in a video this week.

"God is opening up ways for us,” he says, “and I think that through all this, in this very difficult time, our church is really going to grow and thrive.

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