NEW ORLEANS (BP) — Like many other churches, Franklin Avenue Baptist Church plans to livestream its Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter services. But pastor Fred Luter has an innovative plan to make up for the void created by the inability to gather as a church body for those cherished events.
He’ll compensate with an onsite “Resurrection Sunday” celebration after social distancing ends.
“We will use the first Sunday, for whatever month that we’re back, and we’re going to name that ‘Resurrection Sunday’ service in tribute of our missing the Easter service together,” Luter said. “We’re going to designate that Sunday, and promote it to our members and congregation that this Sunday is Resurrection Sunday where we have as a church body, as a city, as a state, as a nation, we have been resurrected from this COVID-19 virus.”
As they comply with guidelines for social distancing and sheltering in place during the pandemic — on Sunday, President Donald Trump announced an extension of those guidelines through April 30 — Southern Baptists across the U.S. are finding creative ways to celebrate the Easter season. Among the ideas that have been hatched since churches stopped meeting in person:
A virtual choir including 20 churches embracing college students across the U.S. and in Taiwan; a virtual Easter egg hunt; a drive-in service; a widespread rebroadcast of a passion play produced in 2019; and Lord’s Supper observances with congregants supplying their own elements are among ways churches are augmenting livestreamed worship during the Easter season.
“We’re trying to keep things as normal as possible, even though it’s not normal,” Luter said. “We’ll livestream (Good Friday), because it’s such a popular service. A lot of people love coming to hear about those last seven sayings of Christ on the cross.”
Luter is convinced the COVID-19 pandemic is more difficult for New Orleans churches than the woeful devastation of Hurricane Katrina 15 years ago. Orleans Parish ranks highest in the nation in per capita COVID-19 deaths, with 73 deaths (or 18.7 deaths per 100,000 in a city of 391,000), according to figures from The Times Picayune and the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
Luter, who lost his former sanctuary in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward to Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters, said he never thought he’d see anything worse than the storm that was the costliest hurricane on record until Hurricane Harvey tied the record $125 billion in damage in 2017, 12 years after Katrina.
“But this is worse, because the churches have not been able to come together with their memberships,” Luter said of COVID-19. “At least even after Katrina we were able to worship together at First Baptist Church (of New Orleans), and people from around the country where they were scattered, they were able to go to worship at different places. I was doing services in New Orleans, and Baton Rouge and Houston, Texas. … You can’t do that now.”
Until Franklin Avenue’s Resurrection Sunday, whenever that is, Luter plans to livestream services from the church’s new 3,500-seat sanctuary in New Orleans East. He plans to send weekly letters of encouragement to members and post updates on social media.
On Palm Sunday, April 5, Luter plans to conduct the Lord’s Supper by asking members to provide their own elements of grape juice and crackers, or even bread and water, in their own homes. On Good Friday, April 10, he’ll livestream the Seven Last Sayings on the Cross, a popular service for the congregation, utilizing the church’s associate pastors.
Elsewhere, Gracepoint church of Berkeley, Calif., with 19 sites serving college students across the U.S., plans to produce a virtual joint service and virtual joint choir for Easter.
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Source: Baptist Press