Easter celebrations are taking on a different tone this year, as area faith leaders move worship services and activities online due to the spread of the coronavirus.
Teaching Pastor Amy Kropp of Community Gospel Church in Oneonta said church officials have pared down plans, prerecording worship and preaching times. The recordings will be posted via Facebook Live to the “Community Gospel Church” Facebook page at the normal Sunday service time, 10 a.m. Though the church typically hosts a 5 p.m. Easter Sunday service, Kropp said, plans for that were still taking shape at the time of the interview.
“Our Sunday morning Easter service is a big deal,” she said. “We have extended worship time, a lot of music, our dance team performs a couple of numbers and we have the sermon and communion. Last year we also had a dinner afterward and we were planning to do that again this year, but obviously that’s canceled. For our evening service, we usually tried to plan something outside — in the past we had it at the Oneonta Theatre and Foothills — and that had been in the works, to do something kind of big and grandiose, and we gave that up.
“If you’re a Christian, Easter is the day of the year; it’s the Sunday that it’s all about,” she said. “So to not be able to be in church on the Sunday of the year that is most important is tough. You go to church because you want to see people and worship with them, so there’s a lot of lament and sadness.”
Kropp said that while Community Gospel officials and members are mourning the loss of in-person Easter celebrations, gratitude abounds.
“Even five years ago, we wouldn’t have been able to do this,” she said. “We usually would have 10 people watching who couldn’t make it to a service, but now we have everyone, so there’s a lot of gratitude that we have this option.”
Community Gospel’s Easter services typically draw about 150, Kropp said, with congregants coming primarily from Oneonta but “out to Unadilla, Stamford, East Meredith and everywhere in between.”
Find “Community Gospel Church” on Facebook or visit cgconeonta.org.
Dane Boston, rector at Christ Church, Episcopal, in Cooperstown said he, too, appreciates having virtual options.
“It’s been an interesting crash course in electronic media and using these tools that thankfully are available,” he said. “We’re thankful for the resources, but we decided fairly early on that, for our parishioners and our community, the best resource would be messages available at any time, so we haven’t been livestreaming, we’ve been posting to our website and our YouTube channel. I’ve been recording services and sermons from the church and posting them.”
Boston said Episcopal churches usually have specific liturgies for each day of Holy Week, “picking up” momentum on Holy Wednesday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, then culminating in a Saturday night “kick-off” service before Easter. Though each service varies, he said, much of the week involves gathering, with him even offering to wash congregants’ feet on Maundy Thursday.
“Saturday evening, we have a great vigil for Easter,” he said. “We light a fire at sundown, go into the church with candles lit and we read the story of God’s saving work through history … then renew our baptismal vows and baptize any new Christians. That’s sort of the kick-off of our Easter celebration.
“Then Sunday we have the choir and an egg hunt and a lot of feasting and togetherness,” he said. “It’s very grand and beautiful and the church is all decorated. That’s a big loss, not having that.”
Boston said, while parishioners are embracing the changes, people are nevertheless “suffering from the isolation.”
“I’ve gotten good reports that people are watching our videos online and are listening,” he said. “Some folks are calling those that don’t have internet and reading our statements over the phone, so we’ve been doing a good job of keeping everyone in touch and the feedback is very positive.
“But … a lot of our folks don’t have family nearby or at all,” he said, “and the church is their family. It’s heartbreaking to know I can’t be there for them in the way I’d normally be. So people have been positive … but it’s upsetting to hear how deeply the loss of all this is felt this season.”
Boston said average attendance on a Sunday is about 130, though that increases to 150 through summer. Parishioners, he said, come mainly from Cooperstown, but some “from as far away as West Winfield, Burlington Flats, Cherry Valley and certainly throughout Otsego County.”
Visit christchurchcooperstown.org or find the “Christ Church Cooperstown” channel on YouTube.
Katie Boardman, director of music with the First Presbyterian Church of Cooperstown, said, through her involvement with “a strong group of pastors and musicians in Cooperstown and Fly Creek,” she’s seen connectivity increase because of the pandemic.
“It’s a wonderful, caring group of pastors,” she said, “and it’s good to have each other. We’ve been letting people know (about filmed services) on web pages and Facebook pages … and I’ve gotten feedback from a number of people already about how they’re really loving knowing that there’s something there.
“(Congregants) are being super-great about adapting,” she said, noting that First Presbyterian of Cooperstown has about 120 members. “This does point out those who don’t have as much (technology) available to them … so it can be a challenge, but there’s a real commitment now more than ever to stay in touch with each other, whether online or by phone or by email — whatever we can do to make it work. Human connection is part of what we do and why we gather.”
Find “First Presbyterian Church, Cooperstown, NY” on Facebook.
The Rev. Craig Schwalenberg, minister at the roughly 150-member Unitarian Universalist Society of Oneonta, said Easter Sunday service will take place at the normal time of 10:30 a.m., via Zoom. UUSO services, he said, went online three weeks ago.
“Some parts are prerecorded, but I’m doing the services live from my office or my dining room,” he said. “Some of our musicians are playing from the sanctuary or their homes and people are tuning in through Zoom and we’re podcasting so that people can hear after the fact, but just the parts that we know are not protected by copyright. By Zooming, everyone gets a chance to see each other’s face, which I feel is a part of the worship service you don’t think about and take for granted.”
Schwalenberg said he plans to focus Sunday’s service on a traditional Easter theme made especially apropos by current events.
“Even though the pope said Easter can be moved, and it is a movable feast and doesn’t have to be on that specific day, I’m still planning to do the Easter service I had planned long before this virus started: ‘After the Resurrection,’” he said. “To me, that message still holds. At some point in time, this is going to pass and we’re all going to come back out of our homes and figure out what the world looks like and how to get back to living our lives and what changes we want to make because of this. That’s an Easter message.
“There’s the whole idea of Jesus in his tomb, then the stone is rolled back and he comes back and all his followers and the women who make the discovery — it changes their lives,” he said. “This is a resurrection of sorts; our towns are shutting down, our buildings are being closed up, schools are closed and people are figuring out what to do … so there are a whole lot of things that are, if not dying, then at least laying fallow. What else but a resurrection would you call it when this is all over and we go back to living and we all finally hug each other again and look at the sun?”
Schwalenberg said all UUSO Zoom meetings and services are announced in a weekly newsletter, sent to congregants each Sunday. The Zoom link for his Easter Sunday service will be available at uuso.org.
Find additional information on virtual services hosted by area churches in The Daily Star’s religious services directory.