April 10, 2020
By Naomi Lopez

For the first time since 1772, the streets of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, on Easter Sunday morning won’t be filled with sounds of the trumpet and tuba players who would normally parade through town playing “Sleepers, Wake.” The cancellation of this 250-year old tradition and many others isn’t lost on those who have cancelled traditional gatherings with family and friends this week for the religious Passover and Easter holidays.

This year, Passover and Easter fall in the same week. According to the Pew Research Center, about 70 percent of American Jews participate in the Jewish Festival of Passover. Another survey found that 80 percent of all Americans celebrate Easter in some way.

This year will be different. As the nation is social distancing, many houses of worship have shifted their services and other religious programming to online platforms, such as Zoom and YouTube. While this may, at first glance, seem cold and impersonal, many Americans, often with the aid of technology, are maintaining their connection to their faith communities and religious traditions. Others are participating in new ones.

Here are some examples collected from around the country:

  • The Barshop Jewish Community Center of San Antonio hosted a virtual Seder and had Kosher meals to go (prepared in a Kosher kitchen) available for curbside pickup.
  • Amanda continues to attend services at her normal day and time but now does so on Facebook and uses the “Watch Party” feature which allows her family and friends to watch with her and share comments. She said that “[w]hile I don’t see the same church family from my pew in back or from choir practice, I’m pleasantly surprised each week when friends pop into my watch party.” Online Easter service will include Communion for which she made her own unleavened bread with the recipe posted on her church’s website.
  • Beverly attends “Park and Preach,” where in-person attendants remain in their cars with the windows up tuned into a radio station that carries the audio while the service is conducted on a large platform. The service is livestreamed and has had 80,000 attendees so far.
  • Now that Jennifer’s pastor is broadcasting daily services on YouTube, she is now attending every day, more frequently than she did before the crisis began. Her two children were scheduled for the Rite of Baptism this weekend, but that is now postponed. Her children can continue their religious education with their pastor via Zoom in one-on-one lessons. And she and her neighborhood friends are meeting for a weekly prayer group via Zoom.
  • My Easter plans include watching Andrea Bocelli’s Music for Hope livestream performance from the Duomo Cathedral in Milan with people across the globe.

This year, at a time when routines and daily life have been disrupted in such an unexpected way, many are finding ways to remain connected and, in some cases, find deeper connections. Americans enjoy the constitutional protection of freedom of religion and, often through technology today, it is being exercised in a variety of new and innovative ways. In this spring season and during religious holidays, that is something to celebrate.

Naomi Lopez is the Director of Healthcare Policy at the Goldwater Institute.

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