People attended services in person this year and saw family, a huge difference from 2020.
Last year on Easter, in the early throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, Father Dave Marshall of All Angels Episcopal Church preached from outside the COVID-19 ward at Blake Hospital in Bradenton rather than in an empty church. In April 2020, masks were still new and Easter service was attended only virtually.
“I wanted to go to a place where there’s new life or a place that needed hope, and that seemed to be the COVID ward,” Marshall said.
In 2021, Easter service returned to churches, though there were far fewer people in the pews than on a normal Easter and many worshippers still attended only via Zoom or livestreams. Church leaders everywhere have had to get a crash course in IT and video over the past year, and Longboat Key leaders don’t expect that to go away anytime soon. Services on Longboat Key were blended this year, as they have been since churches reopened their doors during the pandemic.
“This year, we'll be straining to include as many people as want to come,” the Rev. Norman Pritchard from Christ Church of Longboat Key said. “Our registrations are running close to 200 … Our numbers have been creeping up Sunday by Sunday, since mid-February. What we've been finding is that a number of people are actually quite happy watching the livestreaming. Our numbers continue to astonish us.”
However, for some Longboat Key residents, Easter marked the beginning of the end of the pandemic. though public health experts still advise caution. Some left the island to be with family for the first time in months and others are starting to emerge from their homes as vaccinations increase.
“We will have some folks in church on Easter who have not been in church in over a year,” Marshall said. “I know that sounds strange, because there are people that just show up on Christmas and Easter, but these are not those people.”
Generations of the Kotz and Crane family, who travel to Sand Cay every year from Michigan, have been going to St. Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Church on Easter for 30 years. They missed last year, but this year will be back in the pews with their family all in one place. Easter looked more normal for them this year, as the youngest family members participated in the Sand Cay egg hunt.
“This is our first big travel since COVID, actually in two years,” Peggy Kotz said. “There are 17 of us together here.”
Even though 2021 is a year with one foot still in the pandemic and one foot out the door, this Easter captured more of the hopeful emotions of the holiday. At All Angels, the newly accessible terrace allowed them to have a choir. The singers were outside and easily heard by those indoors and outdoors. For Patterson’s first Easter on the island, Longboat Island Chapel hosted a sunrise service in the garden with cool weather and about 60 attendees.
“The pandemic has got everybody in a little bit of chaos, but to see people come back and feel comfortable over these last few months has been wonderful,” Patterson said. “I’m prepared for congregation for the entire year to be that way (masked and social distancing). We wave to be that way, we have to respect each other. If that means we’re multiplying services to get everybody in, that’s what we’ll do. But for my first Easter here I couldn’t be happier.”
Aside from services, another important Easter tradition has resumed in some parts of Longboat Key: the Easter egg hunt. On April 2 at Sand Cay, kids of all ages ran rampant around the grounds scooping up all the eggs they could find.
“Let’s let the kids have fun today, something normal,” Sand Cay owner Lyn Sorensen said.
Kids scoured the grounds for eggs with siblings and newly made vacation friends. Those who found golden eggs got first pick at the smorgasbord of overflowing Easter baskets that Sorensen and staff laid out for them. Once everyone had their new toys, the yard was filled with a new kind of chaos as water guns sprayed and jump ropes flew through the air.