Years ago, if you had told me there’ll be a time Easter triduum would be held in empty churches with participants only being able to answer ‘‘amen’’ in front of gadgets, I’d have said, ‘‘not in a million years!’’
How would the symbolic washing of feet on Holy Thursday be observed? What about veneration of the cross on Good Friday? What about baptism on Easter eve? These are questions I’ll ask.
But here we are, 2020! Coronavirus has forced a complete change in the mode of worship for many churches.
It’s got to be one of the strangest Easter for christians – dramatically different in shape and mood.
The pandemic emptied St. Peter’s Square of its often many pilgrims, with Pope Francis breaking centuries of tradition to live stream all major Easter activities in a scanty church. The ravaging coronavirus has also shuttered the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the site of the first Easter two millennia ago.
— Vatican News (@VaticanNews) April 10, 2020
This is the moment The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem was closed due to Coronavirus.
Last time this happened was in 1349, during The Black Death, a bubonic plague pandemic.
What’s fascinating about this story is the guy with the keys. pic.twitter.com/9brXHUmeTh
— David Videcette (@DavidVidecette) April 5, 2020
But it is not just clerics of orthodox churches who have suddenly turned ‘televangelists’, a lot of protestant ministers have also been exploring the digital space. I recently put up a post on one of my social media platforms asking for churches to send me video clips or photos of how they produce live broadcasts and got some interesting responses:
Here is Pastor Lydia recording the sermon last week which was broadcast on Sunday morning pic.twitter.com/DRJVFKan1R
— Hope Church (@HopeMalmesbury) April 10, 2020
For christians who couldn’t congregate the normal way in observance of social distancing, they found creative ways to hold services like making use of car parks. Many however, preferred worshipping from home.
So lovely to join the live streamed #EasterService from St Barnabas Church #Mitcham this morning. Thank you @JoabeCavalcanti and @godwyns for organising. Lovely to see you all again 💕⛪️ #HappyEaster pic.twitter.com/p7mvfTivt5
— Judy Saunders 🌹 (@JudyCSaunders) April 12, 2020
My wife and I worshipped online for #Easter, praying for our family, Lagos and Nigeria.
Easter offers us an opportunity to rethink our relationships as individuals, as communities and as a nation as we face these extraordinary times together.#StayAtHome#Social_Distancing pic.twitter.com/a9bsXUCQHO
— Babajide Sanwo-Olu (@jidesanwoolu) April 12, 2020
Make no mistake about it, online services have been there for a while, but coronavirus has now made it more popular. In Europe and America, the idea of remote services was initiated years ago to reach out to the faithful in faraway places but preaching to the cameras in empty churches is something many clerics in Africa are not so used to. Similarly, watching live streams of church activities is quite alien to Christians on the continent.
I asked two Nigerian-based priests experimenting with this mode of ministration to share their experiences filming without a congregation. In separate videos sent back to me, they addressed two other issues: whether online Masses have lesser spiritual benefits compared to being physically present and how virtual masses have been received in their parishes:
Also contributing to the discourse was Fr. John Ograh (pictured earlier in the article). In a direct message sent on social media the cleric admitted that until recently, he struggled celebrating Masses alone; ‘‘it created in me liturgical and emotional trauma. It was not enjoyable and gave me a sense of spiritual laxity.’’
Like Fr. Ograh, the Christian community should adapt to the change in the mode of worship because whether covid-19 is defeated in 5 weeks or 5 months, virtual services may have come to stay.
Give reasons for your answer and do share your thoughts in the comments section.