After two years of navigating a pandemic, things are just about back to normal at Ebenezer United Methodist in northern Virginia. But, there are a few exceptions.
For example, during a normal church service, parishioners could turn in an attendance card or place contributions in an envelope. Now at Ebenezer, QR codes implemented during the pandemic and displayed on each pew allow people to do both online, cutting down on the need for shared surfaces.
"Ordinarily, we would have a shared cup for communion with persons dipping pieces of bread from communion into the cup together, but we'll have separate cups for everyone and separate pieces of bread," said pastor Emily Moore-Diamond of Ebenezer United Methodist Church.
During a church service, parishioners turn in an attendance card or a tithing envelope. QR codes implemented during the pandemic allow people to do those things online, cutting down on the need for shared surfaces.
And this Easter, visitors can choose from an online experience, an outdoor service, or worship right inside the building.
"Meet them in the community, meet them here at the church, meet them at a coffee shop, wherever they feel that they are the most comfortable how we can meet them in that place, just as Christ meets us wherever we are at as well," said Pastor Jeff Harrison of Ebenezer United Methodist Church.
A study from the Hartford Institute for Religion Research collected answers from 38 Christian denominations and found 80% turned to a hybrid worship experience during the pandemic. Those are also the churches that saw the most growth.
"We're still masked, we're still social distancing, we're still doing temperature checks at the door and getting people in as quickly as possible," Pastor H. Patrick Cason.
Pastor Cason's church in Chesapeake, Virginia is among those offering a hybrid experience.
This year, they are ready for a traditional Easter Sunday.
"It's going to be a very full service, and I also believe because it's the first time, people are looking forward to putting on their Easter Sunday best," Cason said.
According to Pew Research, while Blacks are statistically considered more religious, Protestants in historically Black churches are less likely to say they have attended in-person worship recently.
Black people were also among the groups hardest hit by the pandemic.
According to Lifeway Research, three out of five pastors are actively encouraging members who are able to return to the pews.
Cason says he wants to meet people where they are, keeping the online option in place and expanding with the addition of a virtual minister. He also says he doesnâ€™t regret the initial decision to close.
"I think it showed our people and our members how much we care because we were doing our best to be protective of them," Cason said. "I hope that the Lord can understand the decision that I made."
The pastoral team at Ebenezer agrees that gauging individual comfort levels is important.
"Learning how to do church and life with people where they are is an incredible way to grow in our faith as a real people doing real life together," Moore-Diamond said.
It's one of the many lessons they have learned from an uncharted time in church history.
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