How This Inland Northwest Church is Celebrating Holy Week During COVID, Again
Like last year, Easter services look a little different for congregations across the Inland Northwest for one major reason: COVID-19 is still with us.
Despite that fact, churches will still celebrate Easter and offer unique services during this Holy Week for their members and visitors, whether they be online or in person.
One such community is found just outside of Ritzville, Wash., in the middle of farmland. Situated about halfway between Tri-Cities and Spokane, Menno Mennonite Church has a membership of about 130 families, some living as far as these locations, both about a 90-minute drive, one way.
This community of believers is largely known for their pacifism, emphasis on making a well-informed confession of faith at an older age, starting in the teens, and the tightness of their community, this particular one established in 1900.
When the COVID restrictions began, their community fellowship was met with many challenges, but also with many mercies.
“COVID has been COVID, but not without its moments of discovery and grace,” said Pastor Bryce Miller, who co-pastors Menno with his wife, Emily Toews.
The grace he found was in streaming services online, which they had not done before.
“One of the fortuitous discoveries of this moment as we go on to streaming is that those folks at a distance have been able to feel more connected in ways they previously haven’t been,” he said.
He explains that although Mennonites are strong on in-person community, COVID restrictions this last year have opened his eyes to broader ways of being a community.
“I have a member from Spokane who said, ‘you know, Bryce, for whatever reason, I’ve never really found church in the city. This (online church) has given me church back,’ which is huge,” said Miller.
March 15, 2020, marked the day they began having their services online. The following July, they began to host in-person worship, outdoors, socially-distanced and with masks. And colder weather brought them into their large and open fellowship hall space, which was regularly attended by 35-40 members, who still make up much of the attendance currently.
This Sunday, April 4, at 10 a.m., Menno Mennonite Church will worship together in their formal sanctuary for the first time since COVID restrictions began, in addition to being live-streamed. To celebrate this first time back to their formal worship space, they will be borrowing from the Orthodox tradition of knocking on the sanctuary doors to open up to the Easter procession.
In addition to Easter Sunday, the Menno community will also celebrate Maundy Thursday at 6:30 p.m. This is a time when members come together to commemorate the Last Supper and Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. One of the ways members observe this is by washing the feet of their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, which is meant to strengthen the relational bond within the church family.
This year, groups will gather in person with whom they are comfortable and be socially distanced from other groups, while remaining online for those who still worship from a distance either due to being uncomfortable with mask requirements or being uncomfortable due to the possibility of contracting COVID.
“We have some people who are still online only on both ends of the decision tree,” said Miller. Some saying, “’If you’re going to make me wear a mask, I’m not coming. I’ll stay online.’” And “’I’m not ready to be around people. I’ll stay online.’”
However, the community has come together and people have been able to say, according to Miller, “’Here’s my opinion, but I recognized that you need to do what needs to be done.’”
Much of his church community has been vaccinated, as the majority fall into the “at-risk” categories that were given priority.
Beyond COVID, Miller will continue offering his members an online option, if not live-streamed, at the very least, recorded to view at a later time.
Like the Easter story, itself, this season of COVID has been at times dark, but it has also been one Miller has found redemption in.
“You can’t really do Easter without getting dark in between,” said Miller. “You have to step into the grave. You have to step into the reality of what the crucifixion means. Moreover, God comes to all of God’s people. And people respond by trying to kill God, resisting God. But still God comes and dwells with us and even that will not keep God back from offering grace.”
“This is the truth of Easter and the resurrection every day,” he said.
Even in the time of COVID.
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Cassy (pronounced like Cassie but spelled with a ‘y’) Benefield is a wife and mother, a writer and photographer and a huge fan of non-fiction. She has traveled all her life, first as an Army brat. She is a returned Peace Corps volunteer (2004-2006) to Romania where she mainly taught Conversational English. She received her bachelor’s in journalism from Cal Poly Technical University in San Luis Obispo, California. She finds much comfort in her Savior, Jesus Christ, and considers herself a religion nerd who is prone to buy more books, on nearly any topic, than she is ever able to read. She is the managing editor of SpokaneFāVS.com.