Churches are divided on how to handle bigger gatherings at upcoming major holidays

When the country came to a near standstill a year ago, most houses of worship closed their doors and turned to online services to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. This year, with cases plummeting and vaccinations on the rise, religious leaders across the nation appear to be divided on how to handle in-person gatherings at upcoming major religious holidays.

Several Christian clergy members said they had hoped to host more people in person by Easter, generally considered the most important day in the Christian calendar, but because of public health restrictions, many will not be able to pack sanctuaries. For instance, St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington D.C. normally would host up to 1,200 people per Mass on Easter but instead will hold 150 people with reservations during each of seven Masses this year.

With major holidays including Passover and Ramadan approaching, some religious leaders are itching to open the doors to more congregants in coming weeks, while others are urging caution until the warmer months, when coronavirus case numbers are expected to be even lower. Across the spectrum, clergy members all appear to agree on one thing: Hope is on the horizon.

“Easter is about life,” said the Rev. Ronald Jameson, the rector of St. Matthew’s. “It’s about going from darkness to light. That’s exactly where we’re at this moment. We have the vaccine; people are feeling a little more comfortable.”

While fewer than half of Christians who previously attended church regularly have done so in the past month, more than 6 in 10 Christians who normally attend Easter services plan to do so this year, according to a survey from the Pew Research Center.

There are significant religious and racial differences among those who plan to attend Easter services this year. According to Pew, 52% of evangelical Protestants plan to attend, compared with 27% of mainline Protestants and 31% of those in historically Black Protestant churches.

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Source: Chronicle