Easter, Passover messages timeless in time of pandemic, faith leaders say

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The timeless Easter messages of hope and redemption won’t be any different for the second observance under the trials and tribulations of COVID.

But it seems that now, more than ever, people need to hear those words and understand their meaning, pastors say.

“People are really struggling with being hopeful and joyful,” said the Rev. Kyle Ingels, a Catholic priest who works as director of campus ministry for the Diocese of Colorado Springs.

“We desperately need it in our own lives, and we need to share it with others.”

It’s no wonder, he said, that for the first time since Gallup began polling in 1937, fewer than half of Americans say they belong to a church, synagogue or mosque. 

In releasing the 2020 poll results last week, Gallup reported that 47% of American adults claim membership to houses of worship. The decrease, down from 70% in 1999, is attributed to the growing number of people who say they have no religious preference.

“It further illustrates how we need to be very focused on sharing the Gospel messages with other people,” Ingels said. “First, we have to live the joy of the Gospel — if people don’t see joy in us, they won’t be interested in learning or seeing the value in it.”

Many people are still frustrated by ongoing pandemic restrictions in their daily lives, he said, including limitations on attending church.

When the pandemic started more than a year ago, houses of worship were deemed “non-essential” and forced to close.

Religious leaders had to figure out how to provide online services and communal gatherings, such as study groups and fellowships.

Lawsuits and declining infections led to relaxed rules, but many religious buildings still have not reopened. Those that have require worshippers to sign up to attend and have reduced capacity. 

“A lot of people are still scared,” Ingels said. “They think church might be too crowded, and they’ve been alone for so long, they have to get used to being around people again.”

In addition, many have lost loved ones during the pandemic, have faced their own health issues, or have financial difficulties or other new problems.

“We need to remember God is in charge,” Ingels said.

“If we focus only on earthly things, there’s a lot to fear,” he said. “But Christ has risen, He’s conquered sin and death, and we need to focus on eternal life.”

The Rev. David Amrie, senior pastor at Calvary United Methodist Church in Colorado Springs, references a chapter in Hebrews that says faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the confidence of things not seen.

“So, hope is a state of mind, an attitude, a faith choice that helps us move through difficult times in the anticipation of better things to come,” he said.

Even with a spiritual discipline of hope, weathering the reality of the pandemic hasn’t been easy for church attendees or churches. Last Easter and Passover season, much of society thought COVID was a fleeting annoyance.

“All of us have been surprised by the length and persistence of the pandemic,” said the Rev. David Amrie, senior pastor of Calvary United Methodist Church in Colorado Springs. “Even though we have been frustrated, we have also discovered many new ways to connect with one another and tell our faith stories.”

To enable congregants to see and greet each other, the church’s first-ever outdoor service will be held on Easter. Worshippers will stay in their cars and listen to the service over an FM transmitter. The service also will be broadcast on Zoom.

Amrie’s church has encouraged congregants to set up a worship center in their homes with a symbol from an Old Testament passage that speaks of an “Ebenezer” stone, which means “thus far the Lord has helped us.”

Worshippers will bring their stones to the altar later this year, when the church reopens.

“This way, we are remembering the one who walks that road with us and who has helped us throughout the time of the pandemic,” Amrie said.

Resilience is a key message at Temple Beit Torah this Passover, which began March 27 and ends Sunday evening.

The springtime Jewish holiday celebrates the early Israelites’ exodus from Egypt and freedom from slavery, and typically features weeklong community gatherings with prayers, songs and meals.

“Resilience means finding strength when it is hard and finding new and healthier coping mechanisms and skills,” said Rabbi Iah Pillsbury, who leads Temple Beit Torah in Colorado Springs.

Life has always been difficult and terrible, and wonderful and amazing, she said, a dichotomy that can be comforting and inspiring during tough times.

“The goal Jewishly is to find ways to hold both the beauty and the pain simultaneously,” Pillsbury said. “Our holidays and our text reinforce this over and over again — there is always both, no matter what.”

Being in community helps people get through such periods, she said.

“We are stronger together, and we will get through this together.”

While the synagogue itself remains closed, the congregation has been worshipping online for the past year, with high attendance and engagement, Pillsbury said. A dessert seder celebrated on Zoom this week was popular, she said.

“On Passover, we retell the story of how we became a people, and this year we tell the story like we do every year, and yet it does feel different in light of the pandemic because everything feels different,” Pillsbury said.

“Every year we ask ourselves, ‘What does freedom really mean? And what does it mean to become a community? What does it mean to really look out for each other, even when it is difficult?’”

Now, these questions have been added: “When we move back to being in person, how do we make sure that the good things that came out of the pandemic continue? How can we make our world and our spiritual communities more accessible and inclusive?”