It’s Easter Sunday, the most widely-attended church day for Christians, but parking lots are empty and pews absent of people in springtime attire.
With the novel coronavirus pandemic leading faith communities to cancel services or gather online by video conference or Facebook, there may be no local church better equipped to host a virtual Easter than Crossroads Community Church.
The megachurch in Walnut Grove was an early adopter of internet-based platforms used to spread the gospel and years ago launched an online campus. Nowadays, there’s an online group dedicated to making face masks, story time is done live on Facebook and a couple weeks ago the church did virtual communion. Next Sunday, the church will hold a Zoom lobby, a Zoom conference meant to mimic the socializing that happens after service in the lobby.
“Every innovation that comes along, we try and embrace it,” said Jason Ritchie, executive pastor of creative arts at Crossroads. “We’re all just trying to figure out how to do this.”
Twenty-four percent of Americans plan to attend virtual religious services today, according to a YouGov poll. The poll also found 4 percent of Americans plan to defy social distancing advice and attend church in person on Easter, the holiday marking the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Crossroads closed down when large gatherings were banned by Gov. Jay Inslee last month. The Rev. Daniel Fusco, lead pastor at Crossroads, quickly put together a new series called “Unstoppable hope: Fail-proof faith for uncertain times” and the staff filmed several weeks worth of services. After that, employees were sent home with video cameras and kits to put together services and other online gatherings and resources.
“At the end of the day, the original early church was just people in someone’s house,” Ritchie said. “This is not that far off. It’s just way different than people are used to.”
A big church aimed at regularly releasing content, Crossroads planned what it’s going to do for the next several weeks. Church may not look the same as it did before, even when the ban on gatherings is lifted.
“We aren’t trying to be doomsday about it,” Ritchie said, but he remembered what happened during and after the measles outbreak.
The number of kids attending Sunday services dropped by about a third and didn’t rebound for a year and a half.
“This is worse than that, I would think,” Ritchie said.
Drive-thru egg hunt
Activate Church in Camas is known for hosting festive community events. In the winter, they give away Christmas trees; for Easter, they host an egg hunt in Esther Short Park that attracts thousands of people.
The church wondered what to do with 23,000 eggs and decided to hold a drive-thru Saturday where people could pick up an Easter egg packet and candy, and wave at the Easter bunny.
“We’re trying to give people the best Easter that they can have,” said the Rev. Isaac Maddox, lead pastor at Activate. “It felt like that was the right thing to do.”
The congregation of 1,400 hasn’t met in person for about a month. Like many churches, Activate holds its Sunday services live on Facebook. Since faith communities were deemed essential, a small team gets together to film the services without an audience.
“The biggest thing right now is fear, the unknown,” Maddox said. “We still don’t know when we get back to normal.”
Until that happens, he said, the church wants to be a source of faith and help the community in practical ways whether that means doing small groups via Zoom or helping distribute toilet paper or raising money so homeless people can stay at local motels.
Activate is adjusting hour by hour, Maddox said, but it’s important for people to still have a way to connect. People have to gather and have human contact, he said. Though everyone is struggling, Maddox has also noticed families growing closer together and feeling more grateful for what they have.
“I believe our best days are still ahead of us,” Maddox said.