Churches balance return to in-person Easter services with need for continued virtual services

MIAMI VALLEY — Area churches are preparing this Holy Week to welcome people back to in-person services after COVID-19 cancelled many churches holiday services in 2020.

“It almost preaches itself this year, if you will, the resurrection, in that everyone has been buried, had to dig in at home over this last year, had to make sacrifices for their brothers and sisters by staying home, staying away, wearing masks, not being able to be together,” said Pastor Jay Shailer at Epiphany Lutheran Church in Centerville.

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Epiphany Lutheran, like many churches in the Miami Valley, suspended in-person services as the coronavirus pandemic led to stay-at-home orders being issued last Spring.

“I think that was probably the most insidious part of this virus in that it separated us. Separated us when we needed each other the most. But I also think it gave us the opportunity to remember what is most important to us, what is most precious to us,” Shailer said.

The Centerville church resumed in-person services several weeks ago and have added a second in-person service for Easter, using reservations to ensure health protocols are able to be followed. Communion has even been slightly adjusted, with pre-packaged wafers and wine, that are delivered to people at their pews.

Epiphany is not the only church getting ready for a big week of services.

Crossroads Church has two in-person Easter Sunday services planned at 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. at Bellbrook Middle School. It will be the first time since last Spring that the church will have in-person services.

“I can’t believe it’s already been a year,” said Andy Reider, community pastor at Crossroads Dayton. “When everything initially shut down, we along with every other church and a lot of organizations, had to figure out how do we pivot.”

That pivot came in the form of online services.

Both Epiphany and Crossroads have using digital technology to provide live streams to its parishioners since the pandemic brought in-person worshiping to a stop. Pastors at both churches say those live streams will stay even as churches reopen to in-person worship.

Crossroads has filmed a special online Easter service at The Arcade in downtown Dayton, which has seen a resurrection of its own as new businesses have started moving in. The service will be available online this weekend.

After a year of struggling and finding alternative ways to reach attendees, churches are ready for the light at the end of the tunnel.

“It’s about a as big a deal as it can be that we’re able to be ready to have people come in this space for Holy Week,” Shailer said. “Everybody’s been locked in their tomb for a year now and we’re ready to be resurrected and see what’s next and see what God’s calling us out to.”