Churches prepare for Easter gatherings after year of separation

Easter is usually about bunnies, eggs and candy, but this year, it’s all about family.

It’s the first holiday since the pandemic began that many of us will enjoy with our loved ones after a year of separation. It’s in part thanks to more of us getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

A year ago at this time, the Edison Mall in Fort Myers was closed, as were most churches, with Easter services streamed online. This year, stores at the mall are open and the Easter Bunny is taking pictures with kids, and churches are preparing to welcome back their congregations for the Christian holiday.

It’s the first holiday since last March that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says we can get together with our loved ones.

Pastor Russ Hurst of the First Assembly of God can’t wait for this Easter, because this year, churches will be open and families will gather again.

“There’s something you can’t replicate online versus being together,” he said.

With more and more people getting vaccinated every day, the CDC now says fully vaccinated people can visit unvaccinated family and friends this Easter. The experts recommend you keep it to one household at a time.

While we can return to church, we still have to follow the protocols we’ve gotten used to.

Bishop Frank Dewane of the Catholic Diocese of Venice said socially distanced seating will continue – and yes, masks will still be required. “We ask people, you know, same families, same unit, household, they can sit closely together; otherwise, we ask people to spread out.”

“We don’t encourage people to go and greet people with handshakes. We say give them a virtual wave or virtual handshake,” Hurst said.

It’s not Easter as usual, but at least we can be together for it.

“We’ve been receiving from a lot of our folks that hey, Easter Sunday is my red-letter day when I’m going to come back to church,” said Pastor Jorge Acevedo of Grace Church in Cape Coral.

“It’s the Super Bowl of Christianity,” Hurst said.

Not only will be people be back in church or head to the mall for that picture with the Easter Bunny, there will also be countless Easter egg hunts this weekend in Southwest Florida.

The CDC still warns people should wear their masks and not gather in large groups, but the start of a return to normalcy is still welcome.

“I think we as human beings long for tradition, long for things you can count on,” Acevedo said.

Grace Church will still be taking precautions. “We would normally fill this room with five to six hundred kids and their families for a big Easter egg hunt. Still not comfortable doing that,” Acevedo said.

And as Acevedo said, it will also be a homecoming for many.

Some people will walk into our lobby and burst into tears because they’re houses of worship, our house of worship, are very meaningful,” he said.

“It’s going to be like a big family gathering where you haven’t seen people you have known for a long time,” said Pastor David Thomas of the First Assembly of God.

Reporter:Zach Oliveri
Writer:Jackie Winchester
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