PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A year ago, churches were holding all-virtual services for their congregations as the pandemic erupted. This year things are at least a little different.
This Sunday, the First Congregational United Church of Christ in downtown Portland will have only one in-person Easter service. And it will be outside.
“This year we are terribly excited because our Easter sunrise service will be the very first service that we actually gather in-person outside since the pandemic started,” said Senior Minister Eric Elnes.
The service will be across the street from the church, with attendees socially distanced and wearing masks.
“The Portland Art Museum was gracious enough to allow us to use their plaza across the street from the church so we will distance 6 feet apart around the plaza,” he told KOIN 6 News.
Elnes moved to Portland in December. Because of the ongoing pandemic he hasn’t had a chance to meet his congregation face-to-face.
“It’s actually the very first service where I will actually physically meet the congregation in a worship setting.”
The Oregon Health Authority said even with more residents getting vaccinated, the safest way to gather is virtually, spending time with people you live with or outdoor get-togethers while wearing a face covering and staying 6 feet apart.
As case rates go up nationally and locally, health officials said we can’t let our guard down.
“Nationally the numbers are going up, statewide and locally they are going up,” said Clark County Health Officer Dr. Steven Melnick. “I think we’ve become somewhat complacent.”
“I am concerned because numbers are going up, the variants are here including some more lethal and more transmissible variants and we are looking at one holiday and spring break coming,” Melnick said. “I’m concerned about that.”
Until more people get vaccinated and COVID-19 decreases, Melnick said, we all still need to do our part: stay close to home and take precautions with gatherings.
“The bottom line is,” Melnick said, “we are not out of the woods with this pandemic just yet.”
For those in Eric Elnes’ congregation who don’t want to gather outside for Easter sunrise service, there is an option.
“We will be doing our 10:30 a.m. Zoom worship as normal to keep safe,” he said. And they’ll continue to have Zoom services for the foreseeable future.