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Churchgoers Adjust Traditions For Pandemic On Easter Sunday

Lindsey Moon
For many Christians, celebrating Easter Sunday yesterday meant watching a video of a pastor praying in an empty church as congregations gathered online to practice safe social distancing.

Worshippers across the state are adjusting their religious practices to find new ways to take comfort in familiar rituals, due to the new coronavirus. As places of worship remain shuttered Iowans are celebrating their faith from the safety of their homes, or their cars.

For many Christians, celebrating Easter Sunday yesterday meant watching a video of a pastor praying in an empty church.

Others held drive-in services, encouraging parishioners to make the trip to the sanctuary, but to stay in their cars to practice social distancing.

Credit Photo Courtesy of Jolene James
Churches in Guthrie Center borrowed a local auctioneer's sound system, so that church goers could hear a sermon from their cars.

Churches piped worship music through loudspeakers or broadcast over local radio signals for worshipers to tune into on their car radios, just as drive-in theatres do.

Members of Foundation Church in Spencer held a drive-in service, worshipping from their cars, or watching from home on a live stream on social media.

Alyssa Petersen led worshippers in singing, standing on a makeshift stage set up in front of the church doors, as snow blew in.

“Thank you for joining us today, this snowy but very, very, very joyful morning. Please worship with us from you cars, your homes, wherever you are,” she said her husband Corgan Petersen picked out a melody on his guitar.

“Hallelujah, Christ arose,” Petersen sang. Instead of calling out amen, worshippers could be heard chiming in by honking their car horns. 

Foundation Church Pastor Nicholas Hanges encouraged members to rise above the current circumstances that have disrupted so many aspects of life.

“Where you sit in your car or your home, or in quarantine or even a hospital bed, it doesn’t matter. You can become light to a world that is darkness and really make an impact for good,” Hanges said.  “We can be overcomers in the days we live in, through every single trial that comes our way.”

At Madison Church of Christ in Brooklyn, IA, Pastor Joel Nielsen and a praise band prayed and sang in front of rows of empty pews, while church members tuned in to the service on their car radios in the church parking lot.

Nielsen told his parishioners that COVID-19 wouldn’t stop them from worshipping together, albeit in a different way this year.

Credit Photo Courtesy of Jolene James
Churchgoers from 7 different churches, all apart of the Guthrie Center Association of Churches, gather at the Guthrie County Fairgrounds for a drive-in Easter service.

“We’re here to stand together, bumper to bumper, with our brothers and sisters in faith and proclaim this truth to the world,” Nielsen said. “There’s no power, no persecution, no person, no virus that’ll stop us proclaiming from this truth on this day.”

Governor Kim Reynolds issued specific guidance for these drive-in services, urging worshippers to stay in their cars with their windows up, as part of an effort to strictly limit gatherings of more than 10 people.

Under the recommendations of public health experts, in-person religious services and many other social and community events have been prohibited, because the virus can spread so quickly among large groups in close quarters.

Reynolds is also calling on local public safety officers to enforce her emergency declarations, by issuing warnings, or even citations if needed. Violators could be charged with a simple misdemeanor if they don’t comply with the orders.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter