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Local pastors eager for in-person Easter services



TOPEKA, Kan. – COVID-19 caused the unthinkable a year ago, when many churches closed their doors for Holy Week and Easter Sunday.

Many churches held Easter services online, as people were staying in their homes during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.

Most of those churches, by now, have reopened with certain restrictions in place to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

As a result, Christians again will gather together this week to celebrate Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Local pastors say they are excited about having their congregations back in place for what is considered the most important celebration on the Christian calendar.

“It was difficult not being together,” said the Rev. Nokomis Jackson, pastor of Mount Carmel Missionary Baptist Church, 610 S.E. Lime. “One thing with the church – we’re a family and we bond together, so being apart was hard, especially during the holidays.”

With improvement in the number of coronavirus cases in Topeka and Shawnee County, many local churches will have their doors open this Easter, which will be this Sunday, April 4.

Mount Carmel members have been worshiping on Facebook live since November, when COVID-19 cases began to spike in Topeka and Shawnee County. Easter marks the first time they will be back together in five months.

Jackson said he was “excited about us coming back in the sanctuary for Easter Sunday.” A communion service will take place at 10 a.m. that day at Mount Carmel.

“I believe it’s a glorious time,” Jackson said, “as we are celebrating the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, for us to once again assemble together and worship collectively.”

Mount Carmel, like many other churches, will have COVID-19 restrictions in place, including mask-wearing, social distancing, hand-washing and temperature checks for those who attend.

“We’ll still continue to do our screenings,” Jackson said, “the temperature checks, masks, social-distancing in the sanctuary.”

The Rev. Jim Congdon, pastor of Topeka Bible Church, said his congregation will have two Easter services on Saturday evening and two on Sunday morning.

As is the case in some other churches, those planning to attend services at Topeka Bible Church are being asked to register online in advance to help prevent over-crowding.

“We’re doing ticketing, because we don’t want them to be over-full,” Congdon said, “and we’re continuing with our signs that support county regulations and offering them free masks at the door.”

Congdon said some people who haven’t been to church in more than a year may be returning for Easter as COVID-19 cases have been trending downward in recent weeks.

“The restrictions are being relaxed,” Congdon said, “and so we’re seeing some people come out for the very first time.

“Every week, we’re getting more people who say, ‘I haven’t been at church in well over a year.’”

Easter is widely considered the most important celebration on the Christian calendar.

“I think Easter’s unique among the holidays for the same reason it has been for 2,000 years,” Congdon said, “that it’s sort of a linchpin, as I Corinthians 15 says, of the whole Gospel. The whole thing falls apart if Jesus doesn’t rise from the dead.”

This year, with some people returning to church for the first time in more than a year, the Easter celebration promises to be extra special, Congdon says.

“I think the fact that we have been either quarantined by the authorities or self-quarantining – I think the fact that somehow now we’re going to come out and maybe Easter will be the first time we come out … that combination is gonna be like, ‘boom,’” Congdon said. “It’s gonna be really, really exciting for people.

“And that’s really what the story in the New Testament is. It’s sort of a ‘boom’ story. It’s sort of, ‘Wow, look at this.’”

In addition to Easter Sunday, many area churches will have additional services during Holy Week, including on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

Meanwhile, Orthodox Christians will observe Easter on Sunday, May 2.

The spring is a busy time for religious holidays, as members of the Jewish faith are observing Passover from March 27 to April 4.