COVID-19 affects Holy Week church traditions


As Easter approaches Sunday with the COVID-19 pandemic leading to church services being severely restricted, local churches are dealing with the loss of Holy Week and Easter programs and how to adapt with similar events.

Jasper First United Methodist Church announced on its website and its YouTube channel, Jasper First UMC, that the annual community Holy Week services would be cancelled,

Rev. Alan Beasley, the church’s pastor, said in a video that when he first came to the church as the associate pastor and youth pastor in 1984. One of the first things he heard about was the Monday through Friday Holy Week services that the church hosted.

“I didn’t grow up in that tradition. That didn’t mean a whole lot to me,” he said. “Honestly, I probably thought as a young pastor, ‘That’s nice. We’ll have 40 or 50 people. We’ll gather for lunch and we’ll be on our way.’”

He said he didn’t realize how long and rich a tradition it had been in Jasper. “In 1985 when I attended the very first one (that year), I found out how important it was as I stood in this very sanctuary and watched with amazement as it filled up, as it got very crowded,” Beasley said. “I thought, ‘This is amazing. These people really love this.’

“And I discovered the Jasper community really does love the community Holy Week services, and every year since then it has continued, and since I’ve been back in 2011, we’ve hosted it every year. It is one of the great joys we have,” he said.

However, he said this year the services are not being held. As the host pastor he made a call, first to cancel the lunch that follows the noontime service, and then to cancel the services altogether.

“That breaks my heart to have to do that, but it’s reality, and I did that,” he said, saying it is probably the first time it has been cancelled since its inception.

Beasley said he is doing a livestream service for his congregation each day at noon, which the community is welcome to watch, although he said it is not intended to be a community substitute. John and Becky Stallsmith are providing music, while he provides a message.

“I trust every local church is making decisions on how to best relate and minister to their congregation during this high and holy week of the year, a week we anticipate with joy every year, building up to the celebration of Easter,” Beasley said.

He said just because Holy Week services were canceled, the week will still be celebrated in many ways, noting the church will mark Easter on Sunday. The church is worshipping each Sunday online at 8:30 a.m. for its Celebration Service and 11 a.m. for its Traditional Service.

At Jasper’s First Baptist Church, the church is already changing its daily routine, starting with Sunday school and its 10:15 a.m. Sunday morning services live streamed. The pastor, Lloyd Stilley, has also posted devotionals and updates on Facebook, and held a weekly Tuesday afternoon prayer time on Facebook Live.

Stilley, posted a letter to members on the church website, noting the staff is working remotely from home and having a daily formal staff meeting using Zoom online. Staff members can still be reached by cell phone, text and email.

The church has announced a Three Crosses Live Stream Maundy Thursday service at for Thursday, with Stilley, Dr. Adam Brewer of Glory Fellowship and Dr. John Gates of Mt. Vernon Baptist Church.

Scott McCullar of First Baptist Church of Carbon Hill said in a video to church members Monday night, “It will be unlike any Easter you’ve ever experienced before.” The church usually has four Good Friday services with meals after each one.

“It is a staple in our church life to do that. But this year, we will not be able to do that,” McCullar said. While he had thought about live-streaming Good Friday services as it is normally done, he decided it would not work well.

However, one service will be live streamed to the congregation.

“We will be have a Good Friday service at 6 p.m.,” he said. We would love to do it at 9, 12 and 3, which is what we normally do with meals. We normally go all out for Good Friday. It is always an encouraging time. I would love to do that again. But we will have a 6 p.m. service. You can get you some food to each while you watch or afterward. That will be a great service. We will have singing. We will have preaching. It will be a time to prepare our hearts for Easter.”

On Easter Sunday morning, McCullar also plans a “drive-in sunrise service” in the church parking lot at 6:30 a.m. “We’re going to wake the neighbors up,” he said. “I’ll probably get some Christmas cards for that.”

He warned the members of two basic rules for the event. They have to stay in their cars during the sunrise service. “You cannot carpool. Only people who live in your home can come in your vehicle,” he said.

The 11 a.m. service will be live streamed, he said, noting he is “longing” to go back to services where people can personally be with each other.

Meanwhile, Northside Baptist Church told its members online of an Easter Now app. Throughout Holy Week, the app sends notifications to remind “what Jesus was doing during Easter week leading up to the cross and the empty tomb.”