Religious leaders observe Holy Week, Easter during COVID-19 crisis
PINE PLAINS — Keeping their faith strong during a time of crisis and confusion, local religious leaders reached out to worshipers virtually to celebrate Holy Week and Easter, when the coronavirus is keeping everyone shuttered indoors.
As part of the Christian faith, Holy Week represents the week between Palm Sunday and Easter. Beginning with the story of Jesus Christ’s arrival into Jerusalem, parishioners commemorate Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection (formally known as the Passion of Christ) during Holy Week, while the day of Christ’s resurrection is honored on Easter. This year, Holy Week was celebrated on Sunday, April 5, through Saturday, April 11, while Easter fell on Sunday, April 12.
Though the doors to town churches were closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Father Steve Schunk from the Church of the Regeneration and Pastor Ryan Larkin from the First United Presbyterian Church of Pine Plains reached out to assure parishioners that they can still turn to church in this unprecedented time — if only through a different, digital, portal. Both churches, along with many others in the area, have now shifted their services from physical gatherings to Zoom meetings to maintain social distancing and protect the safety and wellbeing of all.
“While it doesn’t replace the physical, in-person gatherings, it’s the most acceptable second best,” Schunk said, adding that the Church of the Regeneration also has a telephone dial-in option for its new services.
Though unable to gather in person, Schunk’s congregation celebrated the holidays via Zoom; they observed the Washing of the Feet and the Last Supper (formally known as Maundy Thursday) on Thursday, April 9. At noon on Friday, April 10, the congregation witnessed a virtual Good Friday service, which was followed by a virtual Easter Sunday service on April 12.
As he strives to make sure the church’s services are accessible to everyone both online and over the phone, Larkin said the past week has been the most active week leading up to Easter that he can remember. Since the church temporarily closed its doors last month, Larkin said the church has improved its website to provide more information to parishioners. Though they’ve never been considered “an online church” before, he said they plan on continuing Sunday services via Zoom at 11 a.m. weekly, until they can gather all together once more.
“One of the things we’re really trying to do is, even as abnormal as all of this is, we find joys in the things we can do differently,” Larkin said. “I always try to do as best I can to fulfill the remote needs of remote worship. There’s a comfort in hearing some of the same rhythms, even over Zoom.”
Tuning in for the Palm Sunday service on April 5, patrons young and old learned how to make palm branches at home in lieu of the branches they would normally be handed at church during the service.
Meanwhile, Larkin preached to his congregation from the backyard of a Pine Plains family’s home. Noticing the family had chickens that made a home of their own in the backyard, Larkin said he decided to connect his observations and his call to worship during the service. With a laugh, he mentioned that just as he was reading a passage aloud about opening gates, the chickens came flying out of their coop.
A celebration of Maundy Thursday was live streamed online on the evening of April 9. Larkin held a candlelit liturgy on the evening of April 10, in honor of Good Friday, followed by a Prayer Vigil of Easter on Saturday evening, April 11.
Under ordinary circumstances, parishioners of Larkin’s church typically take a trip up Winchell Mountain early Easter morning to watch the sunrise together from the cemetery, a tradition followed by a service held at the church. This year, Larkin made the journey up Winchell Mountain alone. Yet, the pastor said he felt the presence of his congregation as he live streamed the sunrise ritual via Zoom. Following his return from the mountain, he carried out the first of two Easter worship services, both of which were streamed on Zoom.
Videos of the First United Presbyterian Church’s Holy Week celebrations can be found on www.youtube.com. Rev. Larkin can be reached at 518-398-7117, or go online, to www.pineplainspresbyterianchurch.com.
The Pine Plains Regeneration Church’s website is www.pineplainsepiscopal.org or call Father Schunk at 845-475-8897.
This article has been updated to correct the telephone number of the Pine Plains Presbyterian Church.