This year, Easter can again be celebrated in person, unlike previous years’ services that had to be distanced due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some East Toronto churches are still offering a hybrid version this weekend, while others maintain that an important part of church is gathering together.
Churches pivoted their services at the start of the pandemic to an online format, in order to continue serving their congregations.
“It was in March of 2020 when the shutdowns came,” said Rev. Daniel Benson of East End United Church on Danforth Ave. “We pivoted to running community engagement and worship online.”
When the restrictions were lifted, churches had a choice whether they wanted to continue services online in a hybrid form or return to in person only.
For East End United Church, COVID-19 highlighted why services like Zoom should be used in church indefinitely.
Benson said the church has many people in the congregation that have compromised immune systems or with conditions that make it difficult to attend in person.
“What COVID has done for us is it has really forced us to look at the technology and use it,” Benson said. “If you just pull the plug on that, then you’re abandoning them.”
For other churches leaders, like Rev. Carlos Sierra at St. Brigid’s Catholic Church on Wolverleigh Boulevard, being in church is essential to worship.
“When you are at home … it becomes ‘my thing.’ Instead, coming to church is ‘our thing,'” he said. “You feel the power from people when you gather together.”
‘There are still many people afraid to come’
In previous years, while pandemic restrictions were in place, St. Brigid’s streamed services since they could not meet in the church. They began having in-person mass when Ontario began the first stage of reopening in June 2021.
They continued to stream their masses until November 2021, when they continued with in-person only.
With mask mandates removed, Sierra said people are free to chose whether or not they wear a mask in church.
Since March break, Sierra has noticed a decline in the amount of people showing up to mass.
“We see the surging of cases now increasing daily. So, there are still many people afraid to come … we were a church on weekends of 620 people more or less, and we are reduced to 280,” Sierra said.
‘Half of our congregation continues to be tuning in online’
Another church that is employing the hybrid model is Kimbourne Park United Church, also on Wolverleigh Boulevard.
“I’d say about half of the congregation continues to be tuning in online,” said Rev. Daniel Reed of Kimbourne Park United Church. “And we’re planning on continuing to do our live broadcast indefinitely.”
Reed said when restrictions were lifted, there were people that were excited to come back. One of those people was unable to join livestreamed services because their phone did not have a pound key.
“There are some folks who are quite desperate to get back and others who won’t be back for some time,” Reed said. “There’s a member of my congregation who couldn’t access Zoom-based worship because he has still got a rotary phone in his house.”
Reed said that for this Easter they are planning an extravaganza, saying that they are going to rent lights, have a monthly community meal on Easter Sunday, and have members of the church play music.
Easter is a Christian festival and holiday that commemorates the resurrection of Jesus and occurs at the end of Holy Week. For most Christans, Easter falls on the Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox.