The purple cloth drape is placed on crosses on Palm Sunday, symbolic of the kingship of Jesus Christ. Both Shandon Presbyterian Church and Zion Baptist Church had the crosses outside of their churches. Photos by Cam Adams.

For Rev. M. Andrew Davis of Zion Baptist Church, the last two Easters were mostly solitary experiences. The preacher pre-recorded his sermons at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, but something was missing when delivering the Easter resurrection message: community.

Now, Davis and other Christian leaders around Columbia are gearing up to welcome back that community during Holy Week and Easter Sunday.

“I am just peacock-excited to be able to see the people return,” Davis said. “I love people, God loves people and Zion loves people.”

After two years of virtual or outdoor services, congregations around South Carolina are filling the pews on this Easter, the holiest day on the Christian calendar, when congregations gather to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

As COVID-19 restrictions continue to lift, churches such as Zion Baptist, located at 801 Washington St., have been able to welcome more people through their doors in recent months. 

“It has been amazing, it’s been refreshing to be able to see people again,” Davis said. “It’s good to see the numbers increase from 60 to 70 to 80 to 100 to 120 and eventually the numbers will continue to increase within the next couple months.”

In what will likely be the church’s largest attendance since the beginning of the pandemic, Davis said this Easter will be “unique.” Davis said in the same way Christ was resurrected, he believes the community can be resurrected after the height of the pandemic.

Davis also believes this Easter Sunday is a call to go back to Easter traditions.

“It’s time to return, to put on your Easter outfits, it’s time to return and allow children to do their Easter speeches, poems, songs, it’s time to return and worship together,” Davis said. “Easter and resurrection is all about being revived from something that was dead.”

The Rev. Jenny McDevitt, the senior pastor at Shandon Presbyterian Church also said her church has seen an uptick in attendance recently. The church, located at 607 Woodrow St., has not reached pre-pandemic in-person attendance but has actually seen more attendees when combining online attendance.

Other than its Christmas Eve service, McDevitt said last Sunday’s Palm Sunday service has been the church’s largest service since the beginning of the pandemic.

While this Easter brings a renewed excitement to her congregation, McDevitt said last Easter served as a reminder that resurrection happens even if they can’t celebrate with trumpets and flowers.

“[The last two Easters] were different, they were quieter. Especially that first Easter, I think we were all reminded that when the resurrection actually happened, it was probably a much quieter and lonely moment so we got to experience it in a different way,” McDevitt said.

Davis also said the virtual element of community has, in some ways, been a positive for his church. In addition to allowing those with underlying conditions to attend, Zion Baptist has also seen people attend from afar thanks to streaming.

“The beauty to the virtual experience is that we’ve been able to connect with people that we would not have been able to connect to in times past,” Davis said.

As the churches are set to celebrate the cornerstone event of Christianity, both pastors are ecstatic to see full pews on Easter Sunday once again.

“I am very excited,” McDevitt said. “A little apprehensive, making sure we remember how to do it all, but it has been a long-awaited day for sure.”

Shandon Presbyterian will hold Holy Week services on Thursday and Friday along with two services on Easter Sunday.

This will be Rev. Jenny McDevitt’s second Easter as pastor of Shandon Presbyterian.

Zion Baptist will hold its Easter service at 11 a.m. on Sunday, both in-person and online. The church will also hold Sunday school at 9:45 a.m. for children and adults.

Rev. M. Andrew Davis, a Wadesboro, North Carolina native, has been the pastor of Zion Baptist since 2017.