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RVC churches prepare for "unusual" Easter

As gatherings remain restricted due to COVID-19, Rocky View County churches are adjusting their Good Friday and Easter services. Photo: Aaron Burden/Unsplash

For Christians, Easter weekend is the most significant period of the religious calendar. But with ongoing restrictions on gatherings due to COVID-19, churches in Rocky View County (RVC) will observe the holiday differently this year.

“Easter is the most important day of the year for Christian people, because it’s the day that Jesus really told us that he loved us by dying on the cross,” said Rev. Ruth McArthur with Irricana United Church. “It’s our salvation.”

Likewise, Pastor Tim Sawatsky with C3 Church Calgary West in Springbank noted the significance of Easter Sunday, describing it as “the Super Bowl for Christianity.” Typically, churches see increased attendance from people who don’t normally attend, and planning for the service is extensive ­– Jeff Watt, Creative Arts Pastor at RockPointe Church in Bearspaw, said his team has been working on their Easter weekend services since shortly after Christmas.

Many churches have turned to the Internet to continuing offering services to their members as the pandemic continues. Easter Sunday ­– and for some churches, Good Friday ­– will be no different.

Sawatsky said C3 will stream pre-recorded services on both Good Friday and Easter Sunday, with comments enabled to allow members to request prayer during the services.

For Irricana United Church, a smaller rural congregation, McArthur said many of its beloved traditions will be distinctly different this year. A sunrise service in the coulee west of Irricana that McArthur said is one of its favourite traditions will be modified so that, rather than gathering, two members will record a hymn in the coulee that other members can then play at sunrise on their own property.

A series of videos will be released by the church later in the day, McArthur said, including two songs, a story for children and a sermon.

In a letter dated March 27 to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary ­– which includes RVC, Airdrie, Chestermere and Cochrane – Bishop William McGrattan outlined the diocese’s plan. On April 9, he will celebrate the Mass of Chrism with a blessing of Holy Oils in St. Mary’s Cathedral. Once public masses resume, a Mass of Thanksgiving will be held by McGrattan with all the priests, where the oils will be distributed.

He will also celebrate a Holy Thursday mass, a Good Friday service, a simplified Easter Vigil and an Easter Sunday mass at the cathedral, which will all be live streamed at

“I am providing you with this information so that you may be able to anticipate what is being planned and to help you prepare spiritually and communally as you enter the Sacred Week as the ‘domestic church’ gathered in your homes within the parishes of the Diocese of Calgary,” he wrote.

McGrattan noted the suspension of public Masses has been challenging on the Catholic community in the region, with some understanding and appreciating the reasons behind the decision and others advocating the resumption of mass.

“In all these, I recognize the desire of each person to encounter Christ in the Eucharist,” McGrattan wrote. “Please remember, however, that while regularly scheduled public masses have been suspended, the priests and I have been offering daily and privately the Holy Mass for you and the world.”

Meanwhile, some churches are using the opportunity to try new formats. Watt said while Easter Sunday will look familiar, RockPointe is planning a series of activities on Good Friday meant to correspond with the Biblical account of Jesus’ crucifixion at different points throughout the day. These activities include scripture readings, prayer and discussions, which can also be done all at once.

For many protestant churches, Good Friday or Easter Sunday services usually involve the sharing of Communion ­– where, depending on the church and tradition, churchgoers partake in either wine or grape juice and bread in remembrance of Jesus’ death. Sawatsky said this presented a somewhat unique challenge.

“Before all this broke out, we ordered sealed Communion cups, with a little cracker on them,” he said.

The church originally intended to distribute the Communion cups to the homes of its congregants, but feared possibly transmitting the virus. Instead, Sawatsky said, the congregation has been encouraged to purchase its own Communion elements and take part with their families at home.

Regardless of how local churches observe Easter this year, Watt suggested it would be unusual in light of the ongoing global pandemic.

“It’s going to add significant weight and meaning to [Easter], as we recount the story and think about all that Christ’s death and resurrection implies for humanity and for Christians,” he said.

For many churches, Sawatsky said, Easter Sunday is a time of celebration. With congregants of all traditions confined to their homes, the mood may be more subdued during this uncertain time, but the message of Easter ­– of hope and of life triumphing over death – is needed this year as much as ever, he said.

“I’ve heard more and more people talking over the last week about grief,” he said. “I think there’s something to that, pastorally, to lead people through. We can’t ignore what’s happening, and yet we have to respond to it…with hope. We have to speak hope. I think that’s at the core of Easter.”

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Ben Sherick,
Follow me on Twitter @BenSherick

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