Faith communities across the North Olympic Peninsula are marking Holy Week in innovative ways while observing social distancing and the state stay-home order during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many houses of worship across both Clallam and Jefferson counties closed their doors in March following orders by Gov. Jay Inslee to halt large gatherings in hopes of slowing the spread of the new coronavirus.
Some have not held services since, while others have hosted virtual services as well as daily devotions, prayer meetings and online community gatherings.
“Pastors and churches are working hard to maintain a sense of togetherness in spite of the relative isolation,” said the Rev. Tom Steffan of First United Methodist Church in Port Angeles.
This is Holy Week for Christian faith communities, culminating with Easter Sunday.
On March 11, the Archdiocese of Seattle told all Catholic churches in western Washington to cease holding public masses. On March 25, the archdiocese announced the closure of public offices and encouraged churches to stream live.
“We basically followed suit with a lot of places around the U.S.,” said Kathy Wiswell, regional administrator for Queen of Angels and St. Joseph Catholic churches in Port Angeles.
“A lot of bishops were already encouraging live streaming of the Easter masses.”
The Pope then issued a decree that detailed how Easter is to be celebrated, she said.
Among the directives from Pope Francis is for the traditional washing of feet be foregone.
Other churches are finding new ways to keep it.
The Rev. Coe Hutchinson of Grace Lutheran Church in Port Townsend hosted a virtual foot-washing ceremony on Maundy Thursday.
“We read about Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, so tonight we’re actually going to have a virtual foot-washing, where you can wash your feet at home or the feet of your housemate, and I will pray for people while they do that, and I think that will be kind of special,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson also said his church intends to hold an Easter celebration service once the restrictions have been lifted and public services can be held.
“What I’ve been telling people is that they don’t actually miss Easter this year, they get Easter twice, because we’re going to have an audio Easter service this Sunday on the 12th, but whenever these restrictions get lifted and we’re able to be back together, we will celebrate Easter at that time and have a wonderful Easter celebration together,” Hutchinson said.
Many of the churches have taken to using the Internet and other means to stay connected with their congregations during this time of social distancing, in which people are urged to stay at least 6 feet away from each other.
Pastor Pam Hunter of the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Forks has even created a booklet titled “Holy Week during a Time of Pandemic.”
“I suggest that we lean into our isolation and find a new way to observe the events of this week, she said in the booklet.
“This booklet is designed to take what would be formal services in the church and transform them into a series of moments that we use to consider the events of Holy Week and to integrate them into our lives, our homes, and each hour of the day.”
The booklet outlines scriptures and activities for parishioners to partake in during Holy Week at home.
This week is not only important for Christians, it also marks the start of Passover for the Jewish community.
Passover is a celebration that recognizes when God passed over Jewish (Israelite) homes in Egypt during the final plague that ultimately freed the Jews from Egypt. The week-long holiday is marked by the holding Seders or feasts.
Like other houses of worship, the Jewish community on the Peninsula has had to shift from holding public services to using technology to connect with their congregations.
“All across the country, people have been doing ‘Zoom Seders,’” said Rabbi Suzanne DeBey of the Olympic B’nai Shalom congregation in Sequim.
To participate in house of worship ceremonies, see the individual websites.
Ken Park can be reached at [email protected].