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Outdoor worship at Whitworth Church/Contributed

Regional Churches Celebrate Easter under Different COVID-19 Requirements

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Regional Churches Celebrate Easter under Different COVID-19 Requirements

By Cassy Benefield

Easter in Kootenai County

On March 25, Idaho’s Panhandle Health District board voted to rescind mask requirements in all five of Idaho’s northern counties.

Because of this, Major Don Gilger, who co-pastors of Couer D’Alene’s The Salvation Army’s Kroc Church with his wife, Major Ronda Gilger, will also no longer mandate or require people to wear a mask in his church’s Easter services this year.

Majors Don and Ronda Gilger/Contributed

In discussing all the challenges COVID has brought to his church, he said the changes have been really hard on their community of faith.

“I’m not sure we’ll ever quite be like it was,” said Gilger. “We’ll see. It could be better in some ways. Our virtual platforms have allowed us to reach out to larger audiences and more people watching, but it has definitely hurt in-person stuff. And, we’re going to have to earn that trust back.”

He went on to describe that one of his periodic attenders of the past now listens to the online livestream of the sermon faithfully every week as he goes on his Sunday hikes.

“The Bible tells us to not forsake the assembly of each other in Hebrews 10:25,” said Gilger. “But what does that mean in the 21st Century? Could it mean online? Sure. Is it the way everyone should do it? I don’t think so.”

He illustrates his point by comparing the fact that some students are excelling in online learning and others are not. Whether the platform is virtual or in person, Gilger says all the leadership can do is remain faithful.

“We’ve met every Sunday, all of our livestream stuff goes on time, all of our virtual stuff is on time and we just remain faithful. As things open up, we’ll be there ready to greet people,” said Gilger.

Following the formal Easter service on Sunday at 10 a.m., the church will put on an Easter egg hunt and offer those attending cinnamon rolls and coffee.

On Friday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., the Gilgers and their church are inviting the whole community to participate in their Good Friday experience, “Nail Your Pain to the Cross,” in the Cedar Community Room in the Kroc Center.

They started this experience two Easters ago, and were unable to have it last year due to the COVID restrictions. People come into the room, with the “Passion of the Christ” movie playing in a loop on a screen, to pray, to write their struggle down on a piece of paper, and then to nail their pain to the cross.

At 6 p.m., the Gilgers gather the pieces of paper together, pray over them and burn them, without anyone reading what’s on the papers.

It is a moving experience according to Gilger and is his church’s offering to the community.

Easter in Spokane County

About 35 miles west of the Kroc Church and on the other side of the state line, Whitworth Church will also be hosting Easter services this year, but within Washington’s tighter COVID restrictions, albeit at greater capacity now that Spokane County is in Phase 3 of the mitigation plan.

Worship at Whitworth Church in March/Contributed

This year, Easter will be hosted outside on the lawn at 10 a.m., and members and visitors are asked to bring their own lawn chairs and blankets. The gathering will still be one that is socially distanced, with groups wearing masks, but they will be singing again.

In the “before times,” as Gwyn Griffith, Whitworth Church’s director of Missions, Communications and Marketing, calls the pre-COVID times, they would have two contemporary services and one traditional service a week, with about 250-350 regularly attending them total, depending on Whitworth University’s school year.

Now, in the colder months, they offer one service in Quall Hall, their larger and better ventilated fellowship space, which blends both worship styles and is attended on average by 70 people. In the warmer months, they have held church outside. And all their services are livestreamed.

“A beneficial outcome of this past horrific season has been that we were reaching people that we either couldn’t reach before or can no longer participate in the way they have been,” said Griffith.

For example, Griffith said, “there are some people in nursing homes that have been able to continue worshiping with us because of the livestream.”

Griffith says her church will continue to livestream after COVID restrictions are no longer required, as these services have benefitted those who cannot come, from the students who suddenly had to leave school last year in the spring due to COVID to a Whitworth student’s friend in Japan looking for a church community he can worship with.

Their plans for Easter services this year included a week-long Stations of the Cross slow walk located in their sanctuary, where, according to the website, people can visit 14 stations to “spend time in prayer, read along with a provided devotional and reflect on Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice and act of love.” Guests had to reserve their one-hour slot via Eventbrite.com, and out of the 40 one-hour slots they offered, 37 filled up. This is something they started this year and plan to continue in the future.

“Easter is our most important holiday,” said Griffith. “God’s son fulfilled the greatest act of love, where he died on the cross and came back and showed us that the resurrection is through him and how we all will have an everlasting life in God’s kingdom.”

Whitworth Church will also host a Good Friday service at 7 p.m., both in person (in their Quall Hall) and online, along with their Easter Sunday service at 10 a.m. In-person worshippers are asked to RSVP online.

Following Sunday’s service, attenders will be invited to order a pre-paid donut from a Retro Donuts truck, as well as a COVID-restriction-friendly, staggered Easter egg hunt for children, where they’ll be given a certain amount of time to collect a specific number of eggs.

“We very much value the people who worship online just as much as we value the people who are attending in person,” said Griffith. “One is not lesser than the other, and we’re trying to make those experiences really powerful.”

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About Cassy Benefield

Cassandra Benefield mostly goes by Cassy (pronounced like Cassie but spelled with a 'y'). She is a wife and mommy, who married at the age of 37 and had her baby girl just shy of 39. She has moved around all her life, first as an Army brat. She is a returned Peace Corps volunteer to Romania where she taught Conversational English, Modern Literature, Creative Writing, U.S. Culture, U.S. Geography, and U.S. History (the last two subjects she was so not qualified to teach!). She is a Journalism major from Cal Poly Technical University in San Luis Obispo, Calif. She finds much comfort in her Savior, Jesus Christ, and considers herself a Bible nerd who is prone to buy more theology books than she is ever able to read. Morro Bay, California, is her favorite place on earth ... with the exception of being in the center of God's will. From time to time, you will find her writing devotions on her blog underhisshadow.blogspot.com.

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