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Easter on Longboat Key retains touches of normalcy amidst COVID-19 pandemic.

Longboat Key's Christian community find new ways to celebrate Easter while making plans for what comes next.

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  • | 4:45 p.m. April 12, 2020
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On April 12, the congregants of Longboat Island Chapel decorated their Easter flower cross, just as they do every year. However, that was just about the only normal thing on Easter 2020. 

And even that was a little unusual.

Donna and John Arkerson
Donna and John Arkerson

After watching Easter service online, congregants could come out to the chapel and decorate the flower cross overlooking Gulf of Mexico Drive. It’s a tradition the chapel has kept up for years, though typically it’s done on the way into service. 

“It’s important to continue this tradition,” church member Greg Fiore said. “It’s nice to get out and see people, even though we’re six feet apart.” 

Carol Peschel, Peggy Lammers, Karen Pashkow and Sue Reese socialize at a safe distance.
Carol Peschel, Peggy Lammers, Karen Pashkow and Sue Reese socialize at a safe distance.

Many, including the Rev. Bill Friederich and his wife, Bah Hero, showed up to place flowers in the cross. Most who attended wore face masks and gloves. Friends chatted while respecting the need to stay six feet apart, inquiring about families and talking about future celebrations. 

“This is just a run-through, and after this we’ll have ‘real’ Easter,” Karen Pashkow joked. 

Charlie and Lois Shook add their flowers.
Charlie and Lois Shook add their flowers.

Because of the spread of the coronavirus, large gatherings are prohibited in an effort to slow the spread of the deadly disease.

Although churches in Florida are considered an essential business, no one on Longboat Key gathered to celebrate Easter, instead worshipping from their homes and coming together via Zoom, YouTube or other streaming services. 

At All Angels Episcopal Church, Father Dave Marshall is also looking forward to when the church is able to celebrate Easter with a full church service and a brunch after.

Marshall decided that instead of trying to make Easter feel normal, he would lean into the differences between this spring and what is typical. The church offers live streams of its services, which are later posted on Marshall’s YouTube channel, as well as drive-in church, where congregants can listen to “All Angels Radio” on 99.9 FM. 

Dave Marshall does Good Friday over Zoom.
Dave Marshall does Good Friday over Zoom.

“There’s nothing normal about what we’re doing,” Marshall said.

But he is determined to celebrate like normal — at some point. 

“Once the all clear is given, and I don't know when that is, we're actually going to do a Palm Sunday-Easter celebration,” Marshall said “We're just going to do it, whenever it is that we get back.”

Marshall envisions a future Easter “makeup” service, perhaps outside, like the annual interfaith Thanksgiving service, where the houses of worship on Longboat Key come together to celebrate in a joint evening. 

“We're going to come in, we’re going to hear stories of resurrection and new life and then we're going to have our champagne brunch,” Marshall said.  

Emails and other forms of digital communication have poured in as the opportunities for in-person interaction vanished. The church keeps up with its congregants via small groups, which have been able to be sustained online. Marshall has taken on the role of IT support as well as rector, as All Angels did not have any way of giving online or sharing videos and needed those capabilities fast as many congregants need a little help navigating digital worship. 

Dave Marshall set up a portable church to take Good Friday outside.
Dave Marshall set up a portable church to take Good Friday outside.

“It's definitely a time of exploration and trying new things and failing,” Marshall said. “So we're all doing our best.”

St, Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church offers several videos of  Masses linked to its homepage, including an Easter service celebrated by Fr. Robert Dziedziak, the church's pastor since March 16. 

Temple Beth Israel's April 8 Passover Seder was cancelled but celebrated over Zoom. 

At Christ Church, the Rev. Norman Pritchard’s services have been going online for a while, even before the coronavirus, to help congregants worship from afar. On Easter, however, the church is normally packed with congregants and those visiting town. 

“It's going to be a very different Easter,” Norman Pritchard said. “Hopefully the message will be the same, but the way people hear it will have to be different.”

Usually, the congregation choir is backed by trumpets on Easter, to add to the celebratory feeling, Pritchard said. This year, they’re playing the recording from last year’s Easter service during Pritchard’s livestream. 

“The sanctuary will be full of the sound of a full congregation choir, organ and trumpets, even though there's just myself, our organist, and three or four of the volunteers who do the live streaming in the actual building at the time,” Pritchard said.

Normally, the Christ Church services get around 100 people during the livestream, plus more later.  

“Just as people now are watching TV when it suits them, not on the network schedule, we've obviously got some people doing the same with the church worship,” Pritchard said.


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