2020 Easter services switch from sunrise gatherings to private moments at home

SOURCE: The Denver Post Easter worship in Denver this year will break long-standing traditions as the faithful sit on couches at home watching virtual sermons rather than gather for sunrise services and other meaningful religious celebrations amid Colorado’s COVID-19 stay-at-home orders.

Still, Denver metro church leaders are finding the suffering and sacrifices inflicted by the pandemic are fostering a renewal of faith and reliance in God. Participation in online services is exceeding regular Sunday attendance in some churches, and pastors are watching as congregations rally to serve the homeless and unemployed.

While Colorado’s stay-at-home order excludes religious gatherings most churches have chosen to abide by guidelines that encourage people to avoid large crowds. For example, Denver’s largest Easter gathering, typically held at sunrise at Red Rocks Amphitheater, has been canceled. Still, some churches continue to worship en masse.

For Denver’s Catholics, abiding COVID-19 safety rules, including staying home to worship on Easter Sunday, is an act of charity because doing so keeps others safe, said Mark Haas, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Denver.

“That requires sacrifices by everyone to stay at home so that they don’t let the virus spread,” Haas said.

All Holy Week Masses were or will be celebrated privately at the parishes. Many have or will be live-streamed, including those with Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila , he said.

Catholic parishes across the metro area also are witnessing the faithful performing other acts of charity by feeding the homeless and taking care of the elderly, he said. Volunteer numbers are rising, he said.

Brandon Hoover, pastor of Vista Church in Arvada, has sensed a new level of caring and kindness among his congregants as they face new adversities.

The number of people who have clicked on the church’s website to watch live-streamed Sunday services has been six times the normal church attendance of around 200 people, Hoover said.

He expects the online 10 a.m., Easter services to be even larger. Only 10 people, including his technical team, will be allowed in their broadcast studio, he said.

“We’re really limited in what we can do,” Hoover said.

But they will do their best to provide a meaningful service because it’s an important time for people to worship, he said. His Easter sermon will focus on how Jesus is the bridge to hope, healing and eternity.

“If anything, people need hope,” Hoover said.

This year, the annual Easter Sunrise Service at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, which draws thousands of worshipers, will be broadcast via a virtual pre-recorded service on the Colorado Council of Church’s website at 6 a.m. Sunday, the website said.

Still, one Denver church will still meet together for Easter services.

The Messiah Baptist Church, 3241 W. 44th Ave., invites its members and visitors to attend church for Easter Sunday services, pastor William Ingram said.

“We are NOT canceling any service due to the COVID-19 virus, snow, hail, wind, locust or any other natural or super natural event with the exception of the rapture. If Christ comes to call us home, whoever is left behind can do what they want,” a statement on the church’s website said.

Messiah Baptist follows all requirements to reduce the chances of spreading COVID-19, including sanitizing the chapel and keeping members six feet away from each other, Ingram said. Some members who are vulnerable to the virus stay home. Others wear masks at church. As far as Ingram knows, no one in his small congregation has been infected by COVID-19, he said

Ingram will not be dissuaded from holding public services even after being bombarded with hateful and threatening emails.

Jesus Christ never turned away the sick, including lepers, and ministers should follow his example, Ingram said.

But Dr. Paul Zeitz, a Bethesda, Maryland epidemiologist, said COVID-19 has spread at religious gatherings featuring heavy singing, loud prayer, celebration and mourning. Holding religious gatherings at a time when COVID-19 is spreading rapidly could lead to a second spike in infections, disease and death, he said.

“I don’t know how you can do that in a large gathering in a closed space,” Zeitz said.

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