For many Christians, this weekend marked the first time since 2019 that they gathered in person on Easter Sunday, a welcome chance to celebrate the holy day side by side with fellow congregants. US observances included a sunrise Mass outdoors near the waterfront in South Boston, the AP reports, and a joyous, hug-filled service at St. Peter Claver, a historically Black congregation in St. Paul, Minnesota. Watson Creek Baptist Church in Nashville, another mostly Black congregation, had planned an outdoors service at a downtown park. But rain forced a last-minute change, and about 700 mask-wearing worshippers met instead in the church's sanctuary for what senior pastor John Faison said was by far their biggest indoor gathering during the pandemic. "We hadn’t seen a crowd like this for two years," he said. "Eyes were lighting up. People just felt good."
The pandemic erupted in March 2020, just ahead of Easter, forcing many churches to resort to online or televised worship. Many continued to hold virtual services last spring after a deadly winter wave of the coronavirus and as vaccination campaigns were still ramping up. But this year, more churches opened their doors for Easter services with few COVID-19 restrictions, in line with broader societal trends. MC Sullivan, chief health care ethicist for the Archdiocese of Boston, said celebrating Mass communally is important to how Catholics profess their faith. "It has been quite wonderful to see how well-attended Mass is right now. ... It seems to have brought a lot of people back to the idea of what's important to them," she said.
At St. Peter Claver in St. Paul, there was whooping, applause and exultant pounding on the wooden pews when the priest told more than 200 faithful that the church's usual sign of the peace was back—no more nodding or mild handshakes. "When he said we could do it, people were all over the church" hugging each other, a parishioner said. The nondenominational Purpose Church in Pomona, 30 miles east of Los Angeles, had held its Easter services virtually or outdoors the past two years. On Sunday, nearly 4,000 people came in person to the church's newly renovated sanctuary for three morning services, with others seated outside watching on a 40-foot LED screen. It was also the first service in two years featuring the full 150-member choir, band, and orchestra. Revive LA, an inclusive Lutheran congregation of about 25 people, gathered on the beach in Pacific Palisades for a sunrise service. "Our congregation has gotten used to being outside because people are more comfortable, and they can bring their pets," the pastor said. "We had three dogs at this morning's service." (The pope's Easter message was a plea for peace.)