After a year of virtual celebrations, churches across Santa Barbara County are gearing up for Holy Week observances within COVID guidelines, grateful to offer some form of in-person attendance during the pinnacle holiday of the Christian faith.
During last year’s Holy Week, local churches were limited to virtual services, unable to offer any in-person gathering. But now, with COVID-19 cases decreasing across the county and more people receiving vaccines, many area churches are planning to hold some form of in-person gathering for their Easter observances.
For the Rev. Randall Day, pastor and rector at St. Mark’s in the Valley Episcopal Church in Los Olivos, this Easter holiday is going to look “dramatically different” compared to last year’s celebration. With vaccines on the uptick and cases trending downward, he feels this stage of the pandemic has an interesting parallel with the timing of the liturgical season.
“It’s interesting (because) of where we are in terms of the liturgical season in that it’s Easter and everything that Easter implies — the renewal of life and hope and promise for the future,” the Rev. Day told the News-Press. “And all of the things that are the themes of Easter are also the things that we’re starting to experience more broadly in our culture.”
The Rev. Day said there is a renewed sense of hope among many members of his congregation as the COVID-19 crisis seems to be slowing. Some members have even begun to plan trips or scheduled time to see family in the coming months, which is providing new hope for the future, he said.
“More and more people are being vaccinated and some of the numbers in the county are going down, so there’s this sense of possibility of hope and life renewed which really seems like we’re going into at Easter,” the Rev. Day said. “I think it’s an interesting thing that those two things are happening sort of at the same time.”
While last year’s Holy Week observances were completely online, this year, St. Mark’s will host services both online and in-person at the church’s courtyard on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
Easter attendance at St. Mark’s during a typical year could surpass 500 people, but the Rev. Day said he expects to see between 100 and 150 people attending in-person this year as many of his church members are still attending weekly services online. On a typical Sunday, St. Mark’s has about 25 members who gather in the courtyard for worship, while most worship online.
Though the Rev. Day is not expecting an uptick in church attendance on Easter, other area churches are preparing for a surge in attendance from community members looking to worship in-person after a year of virtual gatherings.
Fr. Bobby Barbato, pastor of the Santa Ines Mission in Solvang, said he expects to see a large turnout for this year’s Easter celebrations. The Mission is offering multiple in-person services on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday.
A few of the services gather inside the church at a limited capacity, while others will be offered outdoors from the church’s parking lot. They will also offer virtual services for those who wish to attend mass online.
After a year of gathering virtually, Fr. Barbato said he believes many of his parishioners now realize how special it can be when the church gathers to pray in person.
“I think for the most part, (the pandemic) made people very aware of the gift and the power of getting together to pray,” he told the News-Press. “And I think for the most part, it did lead people to question (their faith), but I think it also led many people to maybe reaffirm coming to mass and going to church (and considering) if it should become kind of a routine thing.”
For information on gatherings at St. Mark’s and at the St. Ines Mission, visit the church’s websites at smitv.org and missionsantaines.org.