This Sunday, area churches are finding ways to celebrate Easter while keeping their congregations safe from potential exposure to COVID-19, the upper-respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus strain.
Many churches are choosing to continue suspending regular in-person services even after Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo amended her “stay-at-home, work safe” order last week to allow for churches and other houses of worship to hold services as long as they practice social distancing guidelines by maintaining at least 6 feet of separation people who are not part of the same family. The amendment is consistent with an executive order previously issued by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
Emily Garcia of St. Rose of Lima Catholic Community, 3600 Brinkman St., said that during Holy Week, which began on Palm Sunday last week, attendance is usually up. So attempting to hold services with social distancing in place would be nearly impossible.
However, with the amendment, churches are able to expand their reach beyond a computer or television screen. St. Rose distributed the palms to its parish members through a drive-through pickup.
“Our priests blessed our palms and distributed them on Saturday,” Garcia said. “Our Holy Week looks very much like it would any other year, except it’s done virtually.”
St. Rose’s Good Friday celebration, “station of the cross,” will be livestreamed at noon via its Facebook page and later uploaded to its YouTube channel. At 3 p.m. Friday, the church will celebrate the Lord’s Passion Service, a liturgy of the word, meaning it does not include the part of the mass with the Eucharist. On Saturday, St. Rose will stream an Easter Vigil Mass at 8:30 p.m. Virtual Easter services will be on Sunday at 10 a.m. in English and at noon in Spanish.
New Day Church, 3615 Mangum Rd., will be meeting at the church, but congregation members are staying in their vehicles. The service will be held at 10 a.m. Sunday from the roof of one of the church’s buildings. The plan is to get a radio signal to be able to broadcast straight into the vehicles, similar to the setup at a drive-in movie.
“With the recent declaration from Governor Abbott that drive-in services are an acceptable option we decided to make the move and see what happens,” said John Wethington, lead pastor at New Day. “We also reached out to the Harris County judge’s office and got a standard response that indicated they had no problem with it.”
From daybreak on Easter Sunday to sundown on Monday, Gethsemane Lutheran Church, 4040 Watonga Blvd., is inviting community members to bring flowers and decorate a cross on the front lawn. It’s on a come-as-you-want basis.
The cross will be 6-foot tall wooden cross, covered with wire.
A few area churches are simply staying online, but adding something special for Easter to the services.
Village Heights Church, 311 W. 18th St., will be hosting two online gatherings on Sunday, at 10:30 a.m. and 5 p.m., via https://villageheights.online.church/.
“Those in attendance can enjoy encouraging music, an inspiring message, and a fun lesson for their kids all while connecting with Village Heights and joining in the discussion from the comfort of their home,” Hannah White of Village Heights said.
Additionally, on Easter Sunday, Village Heights will host a sunrise communion service at 7 a.m. on its Facebook and Instagram pages, both @vheightschurch.
Oak Forest Baptist Church, 1700 W. 43rd St., has been publishing its services to YouTube. This Sunday the service will feature something small to remind the congregation of its community.
“I am creating a special ‘church family’ segment where I will show slides of everyone and their families during one of the songs,” said Jessica Evans of Oak Forest Baptist Church.