'The church is wherever the people are': Easter services held in parking lots as churches adapt during pandemic

Posted at 5:22 PM, Apr 12, 2020

OCONOMOWOC AND MILWAUKEE — This Easter Sunday, churches across southeastern Wisconsin had to find new ways for parishioners to worship amid the coronavirus pandemic. However, many are trying to keep some normalcy during the holiest time of the year.

In Oconomowoc, Easter services looked a little different as parishioners prayed from their cars in the high school parking lot.

Less than a mile away from St. Jerome’s Church, dozens of worshipers sat in their cars to celebrate the holiday, and think about those suffering from COVID-19.

It was a service unlike any other, with honking horns, instead of ringing of the bells.

Churches were exempt from Governor Tony Evers’ ‘Safer-at-Home’ order with restrictions. They could hold drive-in Easter services as long as people didn’t get out of their cars. In-person gatherings couldn’t include more than 10 people, and they would need to stay at least six feet apart.

Pastor Tom Brundage said he had been holding virtual services online for the past few weeks, so this was a reunion of sorts of his church community.

“These are my people, they’re my parishioners. I have not seen most of them in three weeks and then there’s this haunting feel that I get having a church that can seat 800 people and saying mass with nobody else there,” Pastor Brundage said. “For me it was just great to see all of the folks, the familiar faces.”

Colleen Erdmann and other community members welcomed the chance to still take part in services in-person, even if it was from a distance.

“It’s just always been a special holiday. I mean we enjoy Easter almost more than Christmas,” Erdmann said. “Just really happy that we could come together today.”

Churchgoers, like Steven Tennies, who couldn’t see the altar, could watch the service on YouTube on their phones.

“Essentially you know the church is wherever the people are,” Tennies said.

The situation was the same over at Mason Temple Church in Milwaukee, where parishioners gathered in their cars as Pastor Sean Tatum led them in prayer.

“In my 52 years I have never thought in my wildest dreams that on Easter Sunday we would have an outdoor service,” Pastor Tatum said.

Parishioners there were delighted to get together on the holiday.

“Service was awesome. I’m so glad that I came,” parishioner, Mamie Armstrong said.

“I felt safe. I felt like I was connected. I got to praise the Lord,” parishioner, Patricia Wilson said.

No one could imagine an Easter like this one, but the faithful adapted and look forward to services inside next year.

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