As restrictions loosen, Santa Barbara churches celebrate Easter in new ways

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Ella Jennings

Santa Barbara churches unified in their celebration of Easter

Tristan Williams, Staff Writer

After Santa Barbara’s recent move into the Red Tier, churches have begun to strengthen their in-person communities while their leaders remain vigilant as Easter approaches.

“Our Easter service will look similar to our regular outdoor services,” said Joyce Berg, leader of volunteers and ministries for Christ Presbyterian Church. The service includes the standard communion, taken every Sunday, served by volunteers bringing the bread and wine to each socially distanced household. Services are held at Providence School, located at 3225 Calle Pinon. 

This procedure lies in stark contrast with last year’s Easter service, which was forced online in the early weeks of the pandemic. Berg said congregants would “click on short videos of various people leading the call, invocation, readings, confessions, etc.” Now, as the church has worked to introduce safety protocols through outside services and mask-wearing, Berg noted that this Easter’s service “will have a full band and many service leaders, like a celebration.”

While Berg said there may be discussions about how to reopen the children’s ministry, or more practical questions about how to accommodate more people, she anticipated the largest effect of the less-restrictive Red Tier would have to do with who comes to the service: “people who have quarantined themselves … for the last year may actually feel comfortable coming to the outdoor Easter service. I wonder, too, if the older population will return as more of them are getting vaccinated.”

Kyle Wells, lead pastor of Christ Presbyterian, affirmed the lack of major changes in services when he said, “The guidelines for the Red Tier bring no practical changes for church … [we] are allowed to worship at 25% capacity indoors, regardless of tier.” Wells explained a movement inside would only bring on more restrictions, so outdoor services will prevail for the time being.

Some are embracing this change to outdoor worship. Director of Spiritual Formation Gabrielle Hughes at Reality Church of Santa Barbara said, “Our dream, even before the pandemic, was to have an outdoor Easter celebration.” These plans were thwarted last year as even an outdoor service was made impossible by the uncertainty of the budding pandemic. According to Hughes, “We switched to virtual services three weeks before Easter, and our team livestreamed the Easter service and modified it to meet the context of a virtual gathering.”

Reality will be holding its Easter service at a new location this year. “We will be holding our Easter service on Sunday, April 4, at 9:30 a.m. in the parking lot of our building downtown … and virtually,” said Hughes. “Our hope is to give our church something to celebrate as we share about the death-defying power of Christ who is in us and with us through a message from Acts 2 and live worship.” 

Hughes continued, saying that “it’s a real gift to be able to do [an outside service] this year,” in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara at 410 State Street. She also affirmed that Reality will be “re-assessing outdoor space and indoor possibilities after Easter with the change to the Red Tier.”

Prince of Peace Lutheran Church of Santa Barbara has radically adapted to the pandemic, mainly because their building is Deane Chapel, right here on Westmont’s campus. Maurice Lee, pastor of Prince of Peace, said, “We’ve not had that access [to Deane Chapel] since March 2020, so our Easter worship both last year and this year has had to work around that.” Lee explained that last year’s Easter Sunday service was all online, and this year’s service will also be online. 

Prince of Peace has found other accommodations to celebrate Holy Week. “We are also going to have two in-person Holy Week services — Good Friday and the Easter Vigil — hosted by Cityview Community Church [in Lompoc],” Lee said. The Good Friday service is at 6:30 p.m. on April 2, and the Easter Vigil service — the first celebration of the Resurrection in the liturgical calendar and, according to Lee, considered “in many Christian traditions … the central worship service of the year” — is at 7 p.m. on April 3. Lee assured that “all are welcome to any or all of those services.” 

With opportunities scattered throughout Santa Barbara, in-person services are slowly returning to normal. Though the specter of the pandemic is still a reality, this year’s Easter brings a more inclusive, fuller celebration of the resurrected Christ.

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