Celebrating Easter in Times of Discomfort


Julia Epling, Writer/Designer

This year, Easter is among the several events to be moved online for Christians around the world. Among many other pastors, Rev. Dr. Annie Epling, of First Presbyterian Church, preached to empty pews and a camera last Sunday. In addition to this, First also hosted a drive-in Good Friday service.

About 100 members joined Epling on Friday night, pulling up in their cars to listen to the service. Families also made sure to maintain an appropriate distance from each other. Meanwhile, Epling and her coworker, Rev. An, preached to them.

“On Good Friday we went to the Macy’s parking lot and invited members to come and stay in their cars. Reverend An and I led that service through Facebook Live and they watched from their cars. The idea behind it was to feel like they were still a part of a community,” Epling said.

Although something like this has never occurred during her career before, Epling has been encouraging her members to watch the services from their homes and has also hosted several Facebook Live videos. First is also considered to be lucky because they were already live streaming services before they had to close their building.

“I think a lot of members are grateful that they can still watch from home and that [livestreaming] really makes [them] feel connected, provides comfort, and a sense that they have the support of the church,” Epling said.

It’s also important to remember that even though churches may be closed, Easter was not canceled. In Epling’s sermon, she emphasized the importance of staying faithful in what can be a fearful situation.

“This year, more than ever, we need the message of hope and new life that Easter brings. We need to hear the Easter story that death and destruction aren’t the final word; life and hope are the final word. Forever and always,” Epling said in her sermon on Easter.

However, some pastors are not as open to canceling their in-person church services. Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne in Tampa, Florida, would not close his church and continued to host large gatherings. He was arrested in March for unlawful assembly and a violation of health emergency rules.

Howard-Browne is the pastor of a megachurch and a video posted to the church’s Facebook page shows people attending a large service. According to the church, however, they passed out hand sanitizer, wore gloves, and maintained a six-foot distance.

Many have argued that churches should remain open because of their religious freedom. President Donald Trump, however, has ordered that there can be gatherings no larger than ten people. This makes church services nearly impossible to have. In addition to this, churches are not considered essential businesses.

“The most important thing to me is keeping our members safe,” Epling said.

Despite his urge to stop the virus from spreading, on March 24, Trump taunted the idea of the country emerging from lockdowns by Easter Sunday.

“I would love to have the country opened up and just rearing to go by Easter,” he said during a Fox News virtual town hall. “Wouldn’t it be great to have all of the churches full?” he said in another interview.

This did not happen, however, and most churches remained empty on the holiday. Instead of dressing up for a Sunday service, many churchgoers were still in their pajamas, singing hymns in their otherwise quiet homes.

“The Bible’s most repeated phrase is ‘thou shalt not be afraid,’ and I think it’s important for people to remember that during times like these,” Epling said.

First Presbyterian Church livestreams on their Facebook and website every Sunday at 11:00 am EST.