Easter resurrects in-person services at some local churches

  • A small congregation met for an outdoor sermon on Sunday at the Rindge Congregational Church to observe Palm Sunday, the start of the Holy Week, culminating in Easter. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • The Rev. Kelly Gallagher leads a small congregation in an outdoor sermon on Sunday at the Rindge First Congregational Church to observe Palm Sunday, the start of the Holy Week, culminating in Easter. Staff photo by Ashley Saari

  • A small congregation met for an outdoor sermon on Sunday at the Rindge Congregational Church to observe Palm Sunday, the start of the Holy Week, culminating in Easter. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • A small congregation met for an outdoor sermon on Sunday at the Rindge Congregational Church to observe Palm Sunday, the start of the Holy Week, culminating in Easter. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • A small congregation met for an outdoor sermon on Sunday at the Rindge Congregational Church to observe Palm Sunday, the start of the Holy Week, culminating in Easter. Staff photo by Ashley Saari

  • A small congregation met for an outdoor sermon on Sunday at the Rindge Congregational Church to observe Palm Sunday, the start of the Holy Week, culminating in Easter. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • A small congregation met for an outdoor sermon on Sunday at the Rindge Congregational Church to observe Palm Sunday, the start of the Holy Week, culminating in Easter. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 3/31/2021 4:35:36 PM

This Easter marks a resurrection of sorts for local churches, some of which are reopening their door after months without holding in-person services. 

Last year, Easter services took place just weeks after the state first received its “Stay at Home” orders from Governor Chris Sununu; gatherings of more than a few people were banned, forcing many churches to move Holy Week and Easter services online, or hold them by drive-through.

The pandemic has yet to be fully eradicated, despite the ongoing vaccination boom, but many of the restrictions that come with it have been relaxed – including the ban on full in-person church services.

Next Level Church in Peterborough, which has been exclusively online throughout the majority of the pandemic, marks its return to in-person services this Easter, Pastor Kenny Laughters said.

“A lot of people have been looking for hope. In some way, our online services have provided that, but our church has always been about the community,” Laughters said.

Next Level Church has always had an online platform, Laughters said, with video messages being shared between all of the Next Level Churches in several states. But they’ve been operating exclusively online since the start of the pandemic, with the exception of a short period in the fall, which ended when COVID-19 numbers began to rise again at the start of winter.

“Spring is coming, people are getting vaccinated, and we’re ready,” Laughter said, about returning to in-person services. “It’s an appropriate time to add that option back to the table.”

The Rindge Congregational Church held an outdoor in-person sermon at the church on March 28, to mark Palm Sunday and the start of Holy Week, and plans to hold another outdoor sermon at Cathedral of the Pines for Easter Sunday.

The Rev. Kelly Gallagher said the plan to hold an outdoor Easter service was put in place months ago to give everyone enough space to be able to have an in-person Easter service with enough room for social distancing and the added benefit of being outdoors instead of the enclosed church. Gallagher said she expects these Easter events will be just the start of a full return to in-person services.

But Gallagher said she’s trying to avoid a “back-to-normal” mindset, even as gatherings start back up.

“I caution us against using phrases like ‘normalcy,’” Gallagher said. “Because we’ve all been through something, and it’s changed us. It’s important to recognize that and move with intention and compassion as we consider what the world looks like now. What is being in the same space, and how do we not take that for granted?”

The Hope Fellowship Church in Jaffrey has been able to meet in person for several months now, said Pastor Jordan Moody, though they still offer a livestream of the service and overflow rooms for those who want to attend in person but not in a crowd. The church has a capacity of up to 500 people, and sees several hundred attendants each week.

“We’ve always had the ability to livestream, but it was always a sideline thing until a year ago, when it became the only thing,” Moody said. “But it doesn’t replace human interaction.”

Moody said he expects a larger-than-usual crowd for this Sunday’s Easter service, and has spoken to several members of his congregation who have told him they will be returning to the church in-person for the first time in months for the occasion.

“There are some people still nervous in crowds, and they’re coming for the first time in a long time,” Moody said. “We’re pumped to be able to be back in person on Easter. Last year, we were online, but there was also an element that no one knew the longevity of what was about to happen.”

Pastor Ken Whitson of the New Ipswich Congregational Church said the church went virtual for their Easter services last year, but are back in person currently, with their small congregation, and are holding their regular Easter observances, though without fellowship or refreshments following the service, as is traditional.

Whitson said while he expects a bump in numbers for the Easter service, the membership of the church is small enough to support even doubling the amount of current attendants without threatening the church’s ability to social distance.

Even for those churches that are returning in person, church leaders said the worship doesn’t look identical to what was happening prior to the start of the pandemic. Most said they are still requiring or heavily recommending wearing masks, eliminating singing or requiring masks for songs, and maintaining social distancing guidelines.


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