THE CHURCH IS OPEN

By LORETTA FULTON

Saturday morning, the day before Palm Sunday, was miserable. Cold and rainy, a perfect complement to the misery inflicted on society by the coronavirus pandemic.

Traffic was light down Sayles Boulevard and onto South Seventh Street, to the parking lot of the Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest. Even if the weather had been warm and sunny, the traffic would have been light, one of the consequences of the coronavirus shutdown. There aren’t that many places to go.

The Rev. David Romanik, rector of the church, was dressed for the occasion–both occasions, actually. His vestments, appropriate for the season of the church, also were heavy enough to withstand the cold. 

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The Rev. David Romanik, rector of the Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest, prepares to bless the palm fronds and palm crosses, symbols of Palm Sunday, April 5. Photo by Loretta Fulton

Only three other people joined Romanik beneath the covered walkway overlooking the green courtyard–another indication that the coronavirus had taken a toll. A table was covered with a vase filled with palm fronds and individual small palm crosses to be pinned to the lapel.

On normal Palm Sundays, the palm fronds would be carried by worshippers in a processional and the small palm crosses would be pinned in place. But we are living in anything but normal times.

Still, as Romanik opened the brief service, which was being shown live on the church’s website, it was a reminder that Holy Week would begin on Sunday, April 5. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday would follow. And Easter would come on April 12. Some things never change–Thanks Be to God.

In normal times, Monday would be highly anticipated by hundreds of Abilenians who annually look forward to the Holy Week Luncheon Series. The uniquely Abilene experience has been held every year for more than 35 years. It will be held again this year, but in a drastically abbreviated form. Normally, each participating minister preaches at another minister’s church each of the five days of Holy Week. The event includes lunch, special music, hymns, Scripture reading, and, of course, the sermons, all based on a common theme. 

Those sermons still will be delivered, only in abbreviated form and online, not live. For the complete schedule and how to access the sermons click here.

The altered Holy Week Luncheon Series is just one example of how churches are adapting to this unique time. Churches with the capability are live streaming services on Facebook, YouTube, or by other means. First Central Presbyterian Church prepared Holy Week packets for members to pick up at the church. Among the items in the packets were palm crosses, a sweet smell as a reminder of the nard with which Jesus was anointed, elements for the Lord’s Supper, a piece of dark fabric to signify the death of Jesus on Good Friday, a flower as a reminder of Easter.

Also, families with children ages 2 and up were encouraged to pick up palm branches to wave on Palm Sunday as they shouted, “Hosanna in the Highest!” Parents were encouraged to take a video to share on the church’s website.  

Other churches came up with their own creative ideas. The Rev. Mary Glover, rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, mailed members a copy of the Palm Sunday liturgy and a palm cross to wear while reading the liturgy on Palm Sunday. 

Highland Church of Christ asked parents to video their children waving palm branches ahead of Palm Sunday so that the videos could be shared via the church’s livestream on Palm Sunday.

Even with the coronavirus pandemic affecting all aspects of life, the church is finding a way to make its presence felt. Holy Week and Easter will be observed differently this year. Easter Sunday, especially, will be affected. Many churches have special music, the Flowering of The Cross, egg hunts and other joyous symbols of Easter. 

The joy will still be there on Easter Sunday, only it will be shared in homes by families and individuals. The physical church will be closed. But the Church will be open. 

Loretta Fulton is founder and editor of spiritofabilene.com

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