Rockville Presbyterian Church on Wadmalaw Island in Charleston normally holds an outdoor, sunrise Easter service, but this year’s service will be held online. Courtesy: Rockville Presbyterian Church
To socially distance means to forgo the tradition of dressing in your Sunday best and heading to Easter service.
This year there will be no public Easter egg hunts, church gatherings or even extended family dinners. However, congregations across the state are still finding ways to celebrate Holy Week, the most sacred time for Christian believers. Gov. Henry McMaster issued a statewide stay-at-home order but announced that religious gatherings are still permitted under the Constitution.
“We usually have sunrise service down by the river followed by Easter breakfast and the regular worship service,” said Connie Brady, a longtime member of Rockville Presbyterian Church. “A beautiful day of fellowship and rejoicing.”
Rockville Presbyterian Church was built in 1850 on Wadmalaw Island in Charleston. Brady grew up in the church that her ancestors built and cannot remember missing an Easter service since she became a member 56 years ago. This year, Brady will attend the livestreamed service, but she does not intend to dress up or make a big meal.
A bright side of virtual services for Brady is the availability of new avenues for people to attend church.
“People who haven’t been coming to church have been on the website, so it’s kind of neat to know it’s reaching people that are not necessarily able or just didn’t want to,” said Brady. “Maybe they feel the need for religion now.”
Midtown Downtown Church in Columbia is also having an untraditional virtual Easter service that is attempting to still unite the church family. At the early hour of 6:15 a.m., small groups in the church are encouraged to meet on the Zoom website and watch a video sermon together combined with readings.
“When that ends, [the pastor] is going to send folks to a window or outside so that we can all watch the sunrise together,” said the Rev. Ryan Rike. “On Easter we’re seeing that darkness doesn’t last, that light overcomes darkness and even though we can’t be together on Easter Sunday, we can all watch the darkness end.”
Midtown Church originally planned to hold Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services in person this week, along with a baptism service on Easter. None of these will be possible in a pandemic, but Rike is focusing on the things that the church can do to help those in need.
“Folks in our church have lost their jobs so they don’t know where to turn, they don’t know what to do, they need help filing for unemployment,” said Rike.
Midtown is sending grocery store gift cards to people who have lost their jobs during the pandemic and is also organizing a system to mobilize younger church volunteers to serve more at-risk members by delivering them groceries.
In the Upstate, First Baptist Church of Greenville is offering video sermons, worship sessions and devotions online for people to engage in.
“Our church has something going seven days a week. That’s more than we had going before, so that’s a good sign. I hope they continue,” said member Howard Wimmer.
Wimmer also has also volunteered as a chaplain at The Gardens of Eastside assisted living for the past 14 years. His normal Tuesday chats and devotionals with residents have turned into Zoom broadcasts displayed on televisions in 4 different sections of the facility.
“Zoom has really been a blessing and I see a lot of churches are using it. That’s really coming in handy for people to be able to keep contact,” said Wimmer. “At least they’re not left with nothing.”
Connie Brady put a palm frond on her front door in Charleston to celebrate Palm Sunday at home. Courtesy: Connie Brady
Rockville Presbyterian Church usually hosts an annual Easter potluck, but this year’s event is cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Courtesy: Rockville Presbyterian
Pastor Ryan Rike, left, of Easter Bunny, normally celebrates Easter with a block party and baptism service at Midtown Downtown church in Columbia. Courtesy: Midtown Downtown
Most churches are not cancelling services, but moving them solely online for worshippers to attend.