Apr. 2—Many local churches in Aiken will be able to celebrate Easter Sunday in person this year, a far cry from the virtual celebrations that marked last year's holiday.
When Easter of 2020 came around, the COVID-19 pandemic was raging and shutdowns were rampant. Now, a year later, most of those restrictions have been lifted and some churches in the area have been back in-person for multiple months now.
Tim McClendon, senior pastor at St. John's United Methodist Church, said the church has multiple options from which to choose. There will be an 8:30 a.m. traditional service and a contemporary service at 9:02 a.m. which will be in the church's faith center, but will also be livestreamed to the church's gym to allow for overflow.
After that, there will be two 11 a.m. services: one traditional and one contemporary. The traditional 11 a.m. service will be livestreamed to the church's gym. Lastly, there will be a 6 p.m. service that will be held either in the sanctuary or by the church's fountain, depending on the weather.
McClendon said St. John's is still doing mitigation efforts related to COVID-19, with 6-foot distancing, mask-wearing and temperature checks.
"We had all kinds of hopes last year that COVID was not going to be but a short-term event, and we would be able to have Easter," McClendon said. "Of course, we weren't able to do that. We had to scramble and do it all online. So, for five months, I preached to empty pews and pretended I was looking at people."
McClendon said he's expecting a lot of people to attend the services on Sunday, as the preceding two Sundays have each seen an increase in attendance.
"That's why we ran the wires and had great volunteers to do all that to set up the cameras and everything, so we can have the seven services," McClendon said. "So, our hope is that we'll have a big crowd, it'll be a good celebration of Easter and we're looking forward to that."
Holly Shoaf-O'Kula, First Presbyterian Church's pastor for compassionate ministries, said her church is doing two services on Easter: one at 8:30 a.m. and one at 11 a.m., the latter of which will also be livestreamed on First Presbyterian's website. Shoaf-O'Kula said there are a few guidelines in place to try and ensure safety for attendees.
"We do ask for folks to be masked," Shoaf-O'Kula said. "We have 6-foot spacers in our pews, so it's very easy to maintain 6 feet apart. We are currently not singing at the congregation. We do have soloists who sing with masks and they're up in our choir loft."
St. Mary Help of Christians will have a "full complement of masses to try and accommodate as many people as we can safely," according to Father Gregory Wilson, the church's pastor.
Wilson said the church has been doing in-person since last May and "there have been no cases of the virus traced to us gathering together as we've been trying to be very careful. People are just excited to be back together."
On the flip side, there are some churches who haven't started in-person services again, including Friendship Baptist Church and Second Baptist Church.
Clinton Edwards, Friendship Baptist's pastor, said the church is still not ready to open again after looking at the COVID-19 numbers and watching the guidelines. Edwards said the church will do its virtual worship as usual, and Sunday's service will include some Easter presentations.
Douglas Slaughter, Second Baptist's pastor, said his church is doing a drive-in sunrise service Easter morning. Attendees will park at the church and tune into a radio station to hear the service. The church will also be holding a regular virtual service.
"I never imagined last Easter that we would not be meeting in person again this Easter," Slaughter said. "I never imagined that."