Local churches look to hold Easter Sunday services in church parking lots

Published: Apr. 9, 2020 at 6:27 PM CDT
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On Easter Sunday, Christians around the world celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, typically with a service inside a church with a congregation made up of parishioners and community members.

However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing guidelines, religious leaders have had to get creative with how the holiday will be observed this year.

Many churches in the area had planned to do services in their parking lots in order to comply with social distancing guidelines and still allow for a sense of togetherness. However earlier this week, many local health departments in western Wisconsin issued notices that parking lot gatherings go against Governor Evers’ Safer at Home Order, even if people stay in their cars.

Ken Mandley, a pastor at East Balsam Baptist Church in Eau Claire had been planning a parking lot service for his parishioners this Easter.

“We are doing all sorts of things that a month ago I never thought I would be doing but we are adjusting just as Americans are adjusting,” Mandley says.

Mandley says since the governor’s order went into effect; his church has been streaming services online but wanted to do something special still for Easter.

“Easter is really the highpoint of the year for us,” Mandley says. “We are trying to be very safe and we are trying to recognize the danger that covid-19 presents and yet we will not give up the opportunity to come together in some form to worship our risen savior.”

However, when he saw the notices warning against the parking lot services from local health departments, he started getting conflicting answers as to whether or not this was allowed from various government agencies.

“It is frustrating to not know what the real guidance is or to have parts of government try to apply the guidance in one way and others apply it in another way,” Mandley says.

On Thursday afternoon, Governor Evers’ office issued a statement clearing up the confusion, saying that parking lot celebrations with congregants remaining in cars, avoiding person to person contact IS acceptable.

However, later in the day Thursday, Lieske Giese director of the Eau Claire City-County Health Department discouraged parking lot gatherings.

“Parking lot services while communicated by the governor are allowable, creates a dynamic where people are out in the community are creating risks, they are out in places where friends and fellow congregants are together and it creates a very difficult situation for keeping people exposed,” Giese says.

Giese is discouraging churches in Eau Claire County from holding parking lot services this Easter, saying people should remain home with only their households.

Mandley says and those leading the service will don facemasks. He says now that there is clear guidance from the governor; he will proceed with the church’s plans to do a parking lot service.

“Gathering together as god’s people is critical to who we are as god’s people the bible tells us in fact don’t forsake gathering yourself together even more so as the day of the lord approaches so we are doing that we are just finding a creative way to do that,” Mandley says.

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