RICHMOND, Va. -- Sunday will mark the second Easter since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in Virginia and some Richmond-area churches have planned in-person services to mark one of the holiest days of the Christian calendar, while others
Senior Pastor Jim Sommerville leads Richmond's First Baptist Church said his church will hold limited in-person services and added the past year has had a steep learning curve.
"It's been really difficult to figure out how we can be and do the church at a time when we can't come together," Sommerville said. "Trying to reinvent church and figure out how we could do what we do, virtually rather than in-person."
Last Easter, Sommerville said the church did not hold any service and instead replayed their 2019 Easter service.
But as cases of the virus decrease and vaccinations increase, Sommerville said they will hold two services this Sunday.
"We hope to allow as many as 150 people into a sanctuary that will seat 1200," said Sommerville. "And we're going to ask them to stay distanced from one another, to wear their masks, and not to sing along even though humming is encouraged."
Along with the list of requirements, Sommerville said they are requiring people to register ahead of time.
"And it's been interesting this year, because there are people who want to come back for Easter and they've been trying to get those reservations made," said Sommerville. "Some of them have panicked and called me on my cell phone and said, 'Is there any way you can get me into the 11 o'clock on Easter Sunday?' And I feel like a concierge instead of a pastor."
A similar approach is being taken for in-person services at St. Paul's Episcopal Church where Associate Rector Rainey Dankel said they would be allowing up to 50 people in their building that can accommodate over 200.
Dankel said last Easter they held a virtual service and this would be their first in-person service since the pandemic began and added they were only told in the past week that it would be happening.
"We were excited," said Rankel. "We have been planning for this for months, literally, and working on protocols and procedures and so forth. For example, figuring out how many people we could safely seat in the church, people keeping their distance and so forth, and how would we handle communion, and would we be able to sing and those sorts of things."
Rankel added they will continue to stream their services for those who do not feel comfortable.
However, at Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church Easter services, like last year, will remain all virtual.
"We've still got a lot of people who haven't gotten a vaccination yet," said Pastor Tyrone Nelson. "I couldn't have it on my conscious if we came together -- somebody ended up getting sick and ended up in the hospital."
Nelson said he has lost two members of the congregation to the virus (infections not related to church services) and said he did not want to put people's health in jeopardy.
He said they stopped in-person services early in March 2020 and with the exception of one drive-in service last summer they have remained virtual.
"We've been just missing people, you know. Family members and, you know, gathering with people in our community," Nelson said. "When we open back up, we're going to open back up and whatever the Governor's mandate is at that time, then that's what we're going to do."
Nelson said he was still working on his sermon for Sunday, but said it will focus on hope.
"The story doesn't change on Easter Sunday. We serve a risen savior and it definitely will be about the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the hope and the expectancy that comes out of it," said Nelson. "I'll just be trying to encourage folks that this past year has been a dark place but we're coming out of it and hopefully this resurrection season will be able to provide some hope."
President Joe Biden and CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky made impassioned pleas to Americans this week not to let their guard down in the fight against COVID-19.
Walensky warned on Monday of a potential “fourth wave” of the virus and spoke of a “recurring feeling ... of impending doom.”
Biden said later the virus will get worse, not better “if we let our guard down now.”
He said that "people are letting up on precautions, which is a very bad thing.”
Walensky spoke of hope but added, "Right now, I’m scared.”