BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — This year the pews will be empty but Christian believers say they will still worship a risen savior … from a safe, socially distant location.
With COVID-19 causing a nationwide shut down of congregational-style services, local churches are using modern technology to stay connected with their congregations this Easter Sunday. Some of them even said they expect record numbers.
City Church pastor, Luther Stanford said that Easter is the most celebrated day of their entire year.
“The resurrection is the center of our faith and our source of hope,” Stanford said. “Jesus’s resurrection is still what God does in the lives of people and what we build our hopes on for the future.”
Dr. Craig Conner of First Baptist Church said that this year, Easter is going to be huge.
“There has been so much focus over the last few weeks on the subject of death,” Conner said, “That’s currently what is on everybody’s mind. Therefore, I think that this message of resurrection and hope is going to be extra powerful this Easter Sunday.”
Panama City Beach church, Eastgate Christian Fellowship, usually holds a beachside sunrise service on Easter, something that churchgoers look forward to all year long.
With beaches closed and COVID-19 infections soaring, Pastor Rob Woodrum said that traditions will have to change this year but they encourage their patrons to still join them for that special Easter sunrise.
“Normally we go down to the beach and do a sunrise service,” Woodrum said, “It’s usually the highlight of the year. This year, I am going to set up a camera in my backyard with a phone and a tripod.”
“We are still going to do that service for anybody that wants to get up and make a special day of it,” Woodrum said. “The streaming begins at 6:15 a.m.”
Even though churches are not holding typical Sunday services, one local Catholic Church is keeping its doors open for prayer, and prayer alone.
Father Kevin McQuone of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church said their staff is also going digital for Sunday services but they have continued to leave their doors open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.on Sundays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
“We wanted to allow people to come and congregate within the state’s mandate of 10 or fewer and 6 feet of separation,” Father Kevin said. “We provide wipes and hand sanitizer so they can disinfect their area but we’ve told people that, when you leave your home, there is always going to be some risk involved.”
If you aren’t a member of a church but you still want to attend a digital service, chances are, you won’t have a problem finding one this Easter Sunday.
Pastor Conner said that First Baptist Church’s online services have been going rather well and he sees this year’s barriers as an opportunity to reach more people than they usually would.
“We may be able to reach a lot of people that wouldn’t ordinarily come in person but they will watch online,” Conner said. “I think it’s a positive platform for us to be able to use.”
City Church pastor, Stanford said that his church will stream on multiple platforms for Easter Sunday.
“We’ve been doing online services for four weeks now and for Easter, we’ve been posting daily videos leading up to Sunday for a special series that we called The Road to Resurrection,” Stanford said. “I’m doing those videos with our technical staff and then we stream our services on our website and on Facebook page.”
As far as music is concerned, churches still plan on bringing viewers the best musical experience possible.
“At 10 a.m. we will do our typical Easter service and we are excited to announce that, for Easter, we will feature two musicians instead of just one like we have been doing,” said Eastgate pastor Woodrum. “We were talking about how funny it is, for that to sound like such a treat.”
First Baptist Church will be doing something extra special by digging into its video vault in an attempt to bring their viewers, what they consider, traditional Easter music.
“We’ve been having a live worship team on the platform that we use as the music but this Sunday, since it’s Easter, we are going to go back and take some pre-recorded choir and orchestra performances that are really grand and stream them to our viewers,” Conner said.
Father Kevin said that St. Johns is being forced to postpone what they consider traditional ceremonies.
“Saturday evening (called Easter vigil) is usually a service that includes baptisms, communions, and confirmations,” Father Kevin said. “Because all of that is postponed, I decided not to do a Saturday evening service and to live stream on Sunday morning instead, at 9 a.m.
Click the links below for Sunday Easter service streaming feeds for the four churches interviewed in this story.
First Baptist live stream
City Church website
St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church Facebook page
Eastgate Christian Fellowship Facebook page