In 2020, churches across the country closed their doors and moved to virtual services as COVID-19 forced churchgoers to celebrate Easter through computer screens and mobile phones. This year, with more Americans getting the vaccine, a growing number of congregants want to return to worshipping together.
“We’re doing a lot of services to accommodate the space,” Pastor Jeremy Miller of New Life Church in Virginia Beach told CBN News. “In so doing, all of the spacing and the masking that’s being asked and required to make sure that it’s a safe experience, but yet people can still worship the Lord together.
In California, however, there are still restrictions and at least one pastor has pleaded with Gov. Gavin Newsom to fully reopen churches ahead of Easter Sunday.
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CBN News has reported how numerous churches have filed lawsuits over extreme restrictions on in-person services. Recently the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in to offer some relief against California’s worship ban.
But the fight for equal treatment is ongoing in the Golden State. In a video, Pastor Jack Trieber of Santa Clara’s North Valley Baptist Church says, “enough is enough.”
“We have a 3,000-seat auditorium that sits empty,” Trieber says in the now viral video. “Governor Newsom, I implore you to open up our churches by Easter Sunday, April the 4th.”
Elsewhere, thanks to the rollout of the COVID vaccine, Americans are ready to head back to church.
According to a Pew Research study, roughly four in ten Americans plan to attend Easter services in person this year.
“Most people who are comfortable with coming back have come back,” said Miller who leads one of New Life’s four campuses. “And as the numbers have continually gone down and people are getting vaccinated, people are more comfortable. we’re expecting people to start coming back.”
Not everyone agrees.
Pastor Shavon Smith and her husband Pastor Chey Smith lead New Generation Church in Berlin, New Jersey. Like most congregations, they took their services online when the pandemic hit. They then moved back inside with a 25 percent capacity and other safety precautions.
When New Jersey lifted restrictions the church hosted an anniversary celebration, a move Pastor Shavon now regrets.
“Church was full,” Pastor Shavon told CBN News. “Following the service on Sunday we’re starting to feel a ‘lil flu symptoms, some coughing, some got headaches, some have fever.”
“My son tested positive, my husband tested positive, my daughter tested positive,” she added. “Every day we’re still getting reports tested positive, the musician, tested positive. One of the praise and worship leaders tested positive.”
For that reason, Pastor Shavon says their planned in-person Easter service is on hold.
“Since this has happened with me and my husband dialoging, I think we’re gonna have to have a virtual Resurrection Sunday service,” she explained.
Pastor Miller explained that for those not ready to return to the church in person, the online church is likely to be around for a while.
“Our viewership online has skyrocketed and that’s been the case for most churches so, we’ve put a lot of effort into making sure that we have a good online experience. We’ve done everything that we can to meet people and disciple people where they are, where they feel comfortable.”
Still, whether in person or online, those CBN News talked with agree that sharing the message of Easter is what’s most important.
“There is a big emphasis on Easter but we’re not just after the regular people who have been coming, coming back, we’re after the people who don’t know Him to come in and experience Him,” Pastor Miller said.