Churches cautiously open for Easter services

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Artistic markers indicate a pew at First Baptist Church of Elkin that are closed to seating as part of social distancing.

Courtesy of First Baptist Church of Elkin

For some area churches, Easter will mark the return of in-person services, although many are continuing outdoor or non-traditional formats that includes asking congregants to bring their own chairs.

Maplewood Baptist Church wasn’t able to gather in person for Easter last year due to the pandemic. This year, they will gather outside at 10:30 a.m. Sunday.

“We weren’t able to gather together last year, so this Easter, we truly want to celebrate the tomb is empty,” said Rev. Jimmy Lancaster.

Maplewood Baptist invites anyone in the community to attend the Easter morning service, as well as a special Good Friday service socially distanced and received from attendees’ own vehicles or via Facebook Live on Maplewood’s Facebook page. The drive-in service will be held in the parking lot of Triple Cross Church at the Lone Hickory Arena. The Good Friday service starts at noon.

“Attendees are asked to please stay in their vehicle and hear the service through the sound system or by tuning in through their radio,” Lancaster said.

Last year, Easter sunrise service for Boonville United Methodist Church — a 15-year tradition — featured a rebroadcast of the 2019 Easter choir program. The annual sunrise choir program is a jewel in the church’s musical experience. The sunrise service was traditionally held at RagApple Lassie Vineyards, followed by a breakfast at the church’s fellowship hall.

“It was disappointing,” recalled Rev. Jenny Stewart.

This year, the vineyard sunrise service is back at the vineyard with Pilot Mountain in view, but congregants will bring their own chairs. And on Good Friday, the church will also host a Stations of the Cross event at the vineyard.

“We will stop at where [Jesus] is arrested,” Stewart explained. “And then we stop at a station where he is on the cross. It’s really meaningful.”

Boonville United Methodist has also been holding limited, socially distanced services indoors since November. But the return of the Easter festivities at RagApple Lassie is feels something like a turning of the tide.

“It’s not normal, but it’s good to be in person as much as we can,” Stewart said.

Nearby in Elkin, some churches are returning to in-person services for the first time this week.

“It feels pretty good,” said Dan Wilkers, Interim Pastor at Elkin Presbyterian Church. “I hate preaching to an empty room.”

His church will open its doors for in-person worship Easter Sunday for the first time since May 2020, offering a 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. service with socially distanced seating for 48 congregants. The service will also be livestreamed.

Wilkers cautioned that the return back “may leave people feeling bankrupt of worship” because there will be so many changes from the routines they remember, such as no singing of hymns.

At First Baptist Church of Elkin, hymn singing is also off the order of worship. Their 11 a.m. Sunday service has been operating in-person at 20% capacity since November. However, the usual Easter sunrise service will remain virtual only this year, livestreaming at 7 a.m. on Facebook Live from Hollywood Cemetery.

“We’re also using our church phone tree network to deliver the Sunrise Service to congregants by text message on Easter morning,” said Rev. Mark A. Reece, Jr., of First Baptist. “We want our church family to wake up to the good news of resurrection.”

Reece’s church plans to continue a mix of virtual and in-person services. He said that while the ministry staff have been vaccinated and a large number of congregants have, as well, the church plans to keep its social distancing protocols in place for now, including requiring face coverings and a greeting team escort in and out of the sanctuary to ensure protocols are followed.

“Our Women’s Missionary Union seamstresses created beautiful fabric pew markers with liturgical designs that enable social distancing. We’re utilizing a screen in the sanctuary as opposed to worship programs and are not passing the offering plate to maintain a ‘touch-free’ worship experience,” he said. “Our leadership remains committed to maintaining our COVID-19 protocol in the foreseeable future and will continue to do all that we can to ensure a safe sanctuary so that worshippers of all ages can connect with God and one another.”

Lisa Michals may be reached at 336-448-4968 or follow her on Twitter @lisamichals3.

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