Easter one year after pandemic start

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Posted April 2, 2021 | By Brendan Farrell | brendan@ocalagazette.com

Joy Lutheran Church Pastor Arthur Wuertz remembers thinking how last year’s sparsely attended Easter sunrise service was eerily like the first Easter. Then in its early days, the COVID-19 pandemic kept many away.

“It was beautiful in its own way,” Wuertz said. “It really reminded us of the first Easter, which was before dawn and it was just a couple of women and someone who they thought was the gardener, but it was Jesus. It really reminded me of that in a very real way that the first witnesses were only a few.”

Later that morning, Wuertz would hold a virtual Easter service on Facebook using his cell phone and a tripod that his daughter rigged. The church continues to stream services, but this year Wuertz is thankful for a much more “normal” Easter. And a growing sense of hope that was missing a year ago.

“It is the high day of the church here, and it’s reflective of where we’re at now where we really can see hope that we hadn’t seen before,” Wuertz said. “And many of our members have, they told me months ago, ‘Once I get my second vaccine, you’ll see me back.’ And they were true to their word, so, you know, with each passing Sunday we’ve seen a slight increase in our attendance.”

Joy Lutheran will once again have its sunrise service in its memorial garden at 6 a.m. as well as 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. services in the sanctuary.

First Presbyterian Church of Ocala will hold its Easter service at 10 a.m. under a large, white tent on the lawn. The church used the same setup for Christmas services. Interim associate pastor Walk Jones said it worked well.

The outdoor services allow older congregation members to attend.

“A lot of our members are older, and so they have been very careful when they were present inside with anyone… and so they have not come to our in-person worship,” Jones said. “But they can come to the tent or sit in their cars on the periphery of the tent and listen to the service. Folks have enjoyed that.”

Jones admits to a difficult year for the church. Smaller meeting groups and Bible studies moved online. But the online versions lack the warmth of in-person fellowship.

“There’s just nothing like being present with someone, breaking bread together in a fellowship meal or being in the classroom,” Jones said.

Jones also noticed church members trickling back to in-person services as they receive their shots. Jones said he feels a sense of hope around the church as one of the year’s holiest days approaches.

“This will be a special year to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, to celebrate the church gathering together because we’ve had a year of separation, darkness and winter,” he said.

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