Faithful find creative ways to celebrate Easter together, separately

MaryAnn Lawson collects prayer requests in a Santa Ana parking lot.
MaryAnn Lawson collects prayer requests from people gathered in their cars in a Santa Ana parking lot for an Easter service by the Rev. Robert A. Schuller.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)
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When Archbishop José H. Gomez stepped to the lectern Easter Sunday, his view from the pulpit differed from years past. The pews inside the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, where generations of faithful once sat awaiting his holiday message, were now barren.

“It is a different celebration this year because almost everyone all over the world has been forced to celebrate this Easter Sunday in their homes,” Los Angeles’ archbishop said. “Because, as we know, our world is shut down by the coronavirus pandemic.”

This year, his audience watched from their homes as the archdiocese streamed the service online at a time when people across Southern California were forced to alter their Easter plans amid orders to self-quarantine.

A man follows along with his bible as fellow worshippers gathering in their cars in a parking lot in Santa Ana to worship in an Easter service by Rev. Robert A. Schuller on Easter Sunday.
(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

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As state and local officials ramp up restrictions on Californians’ movements, most houses of worship have moved their services, classes and prayer groups online.

Los Angeles County officials requested last week that any planned in-person or car gatherings for Holy Week or Passover be canceled. L.A. County botanical gardens, lakes and parks were also closed to the public Sunday. Many other cities are following suit, and officials warned that authorities would be out in force to make sure people didn’t use the facilities.

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San Bernardino County had initially ordered that all religious services be held electronically but later loosened restrictions, saying that organizations that had already planned and paid for drive-ins for the weekend should “proceed with those services if they choose to do so and make every effort to prevent contact between congregants.”

Greg and Jaylene Valentine listen to the Rev. Robert A. Schuller.
Greg and Jaylene Valentine of Huntington Beach gather with other worshipers inside their cars to hear the Rev. Robert A. Schuller.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

In Orange County, the Rev. Robert A. Schuller revived the drive-in ministry — a practice that helped his father, the pastor who built the Crystal Cathedral, rise from humble beginnings to become one of the late 20th century’s most recognized religious figures. Parishioners pulled into a Santa Ana parking lot and tuned in to Schuller’s service from their car radios as he preached from a second-floor balcony.

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Los Angeles officials reported an additional 25 deaths related to the virus around midday Saturday, and 456 new cases. Long Beach, which has its own public health department, also reported a death.

Gov. Gavin Newsom asked the faithful that “as you pray, move your feet at least six feet apart from someone else.”

“Practice your faith,” he said, “but do so in a way that allows you to keep yourself healthy, keep others healthy and does justice to the teaching of Christ, God and others.”

The Rev. Kyle Joachim of Silverlake Community Church streamed services from his backyard, dressed in a button-down shirt, tie and puffy blue jacket.

“Happy Easter!” he said with a smile. “We’ve been looking forward to this day for a while. We knew when the quarantine happened that this day was going to come where we were going to have our biggest Sunday of the year be happening from our living room couches.”

His flock watched the YouTube service remotely, chiming in via real-time comments that displayed on the right side of the screen. The online worshipers came from different corners of the world, from Southern California to Texas to Berlin.

“I’ve got my bread and a (small) bottle of champagne ready to pop! LET’S GET THIS RESURRECTION PARTY STARTED!” one wrote.

Kurner of Corona with her 9-year-old dog Stella Mae along with other worshippers gather in their cars in a parking lot in Santa Ana to worship in an Easter service by Rev. Robert A. Schuller on Sunday. "People need a place to go to worship on Easter, " he said.
Kurner of Corona with her 9-year-old dog Stella Mae along with other worshippers gather in their cars in a parking lot in Santa Ana to worship in an Easter service by Rev. Robert A. Schuller on Sunday. “People need a place to go to worship on Easter, " he said.
(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

The interactive service was tailored to the unique circumstances of the moment, and the pastor asked that those watching participate at different moments by using their phones.

Shortly into the stream, Joachim instructed his digital audience to pull out their phones, take a photo and share a message wishing other congregants a happy Easter. As he spoke, parishioners texted him well wishes.

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The pastor joked that he had kept telling himself he would reach out to people more over the phone during self-quarantine only to get caught up in a Netflix binge. He suggested that those watching not allow quarantining to make their lives feel small.

“Let’s talk to other people, text each other,” he said. “Life is bigger than the space we’re confined to.”