In central Ohio, and throughout the nation, most church parking lots will be empty on Easter Sunday, April 12.

But that does not mean Christians will not be worshipping during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

"For those of us in the Christian faith, Easter is a very meaningful service and occasion," said Kyle Hammond, lead pastor at Adventure Church in Lewis Center.

It's a time when members of a church community want to gather together to celebrate their faith, he said.

Despite the need to maintain appropriate social distancing because of the coronavirus, church members all over the region have been finding creative ways to connect and gather strength and spiritual nourishment from their faith and each other during this Easter season, said Glenn Miles, senior minister at First Community Church near the Grandview Heights, Hilliard and Upper Arlington communities.

"It's kind of like with that movie 'Apollo 13,' " he said. "They had to come up with a way to get those guys back to Earth. In the church community, we're finding ways to celebrate Easter together, even if we have to be apart."

First Community Church

On a normal Sunday, First Community Church holds four services: three at its north campus at 3777 Dublin Road, Columbus, and one at its south campus at 1320 Cambridge Blvd., Marble Cliff.

When Gov. Mike DeWine on March 12 issued his initial order to close Ohio's schools for at least three weeks because of the coronavirus, First Community immediately decided to transition to an online-only service, Miles said.

Since March 15, First Community has held one service at 11 a.m. that can be livestreamed or accessed later on the church's Facebook page or at fcchurch.tv.

During normal times, the church livestreams its 11 a.m. service each Sunday and broadcasts "First Edition," an abbreviated presentation of its worship service, at 8:30 a.m. Sundays on WWHO-CW Columbus.

The coronavirus pandemic means churches "are being dragged into the digital age, whether we like it or not," Miles said.

But that can offer a chance to bring people from all parts of the world to worship together virtually, he said.

"We have a person in the military serving in the Middle East, and he and his buddies watch us every Sunday," Miles said.

On a typical Easter Sunday, First Community will have about 3,000 people attend services at its north and south campuses, he said.

This year's service will be conducted in "a minimalist style," Miles said.

"But that's something I'm planning to talk about as part of my Easter sermon," he said. "The first Easter was a quiet occasion, because no one was expecting an Easter. There were no trumpets or flowers.

"One positive impact of what we're going through is that it's forcing us to pay attention to our mission, who we are and what God is calling us to do," Miles said. "This is helping us clarify what our mission is."

With a stay-at-home order in place in the state, First Community has created an older-adult response team to offer assistance to the approximately 725 church members ages 70 and older, Miles said.

"It's a team of about 80 volunteers who made initial calls to our older church members to check on what help they might need," he said. "We're checking back with each of them weekly by email, text or phone."

From 1 to 2 p.m. each Sunday, two First Community pastors have been stationed at each campus to take prayer requests from and pray over people who drive up in their vehicles, all from at least a 6-foot distance, he said.

Furthermore, First Community's Heart to Heart Pantry is continuing to offer its program as a drive-thru service, Miles said.

"We couldn't continue the operation as an indoor pantry because the space is so tight," he said. "So we're providing prepackaged items that people can drive in and pick up."

During the week of March 23, the pantry saw approximately a 40% increase over the 100 to 120 clients it serves in a typical week, Miles said.

Trinity United Methodist Church

Trinity United Methodist Church, 1581 Cambridge Blvd. in Columbus, between Grandview Heights and Upper Arlington, has been livestreaming its Sunday services for seven years, said senior pastor Wade Giffin.

"It's made it easier for us to transition to doing online services only," he said. "We had the infrastructure already set up."

The church holds a traditional service at 9 a.m. and contemporary worship at 10:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.

In normal times, about 600 to 650 people will attend the services in person and another 200 will watch online, Giffin said.

The number of participants has increased since the church went to online-only services beginning March 15, he said.

"We use analytics from Facebook, and we believe about 1,531 people watched our services on March 29," Giffin said. "It's a good deal more than the typical totals including both in-person and online participants."

On March 29, people from 17 states and at least four countries, including Canada, Japan, Poland and Singapore, watched the services, he said.

The livestreams always have drawn viewers from far and wide, but the reach has increased over the past few weeks, Giffin said.

"It's a global connection we've seen ramp up," he said. "I think with churches closed all over, people are seeking worship opportunities online. This allows people from other states to connect with and worship with family members or people they know who are part of our local church community."

On March 27, Trinity posted on its Facebook page a photo of the banner the church placed at the corner outside its building.

The banner's message was: "Love is not shut down. #trivillagestrong."

Within four days, more than 8,900 people had viewed the post, Giffin said.

"A lot of people have shared it on social media," he said. "We tried not to be real 'churchy' with the banner's message. We want it to be for everyone in the Tri-Village area (Grandview, Marble Cliff and Upper Arlington) and not just for people who belong to our church. The one thing we can all share with each other, especially now, is a message of love."

During Holy Week, Trinity will have three shifts of drive-thru communion in its parking lot on Holy Thursday, April 9, and Good Friday, April 10, Giffin said. The shifts will be from noon to 1 p.m., 5 to 6:30 p.m. and 8 to 8:30 p.m. each day.

"People can drive up and take a communion celebration cup with two lids. Under one lid is the wafer, and under the second lid is the juice," he said. "When we hold our Easter service, they can use the cups to still be able to participate in an important part of the service, even as they are watching it online."

Beginning March 22, Trinity's ministers have been recording the services from their homes as a social-distancing measure, Giffin said. The first week of online services was held at the church, with just the small number of people needed to conduct and livestream the service.

"We know that on Easter, people are going to miss gathering in our sanctuary and will miss not being able to see the beautiful lilies that adorn the church and hear the music," he said. "So we are planning to go back to our archives and start the service by showing the hymn 'Christ the Lord Is Risen Today' being sung by the congregation on a previous Easter Sunday, when the church was filled with music, people and flowers."

Westphal Avenue Baptist Church

The coronavirus pandemic has changed everyone's lives, at least temporarily.

For Westphal Avenue Baptist Church in Whitehall, it resulted in a crash course in livestreaming.

The church began live streaming its 10:30 a.m. Sunday service March 22.

"We'd never livestreamed before," pastor Tony Cambron said. "It was a quick learning curve for us. We had a church member bring in a tripod and place his cellphone to capture the service."

Westphal has provided audio recordings of its services on its website for at least a decade, Cambron said, and it also has provided CD recordings of the services for church members who are homebound or unable to attend the service in the sanctuary at 780 Westphal Ave.

The church now is making DVD copies of the services and is able to loan a DVD or CD player to church members who need one, Cambron said.

The livestreams are available on Facebook and YouTube and on the church's website, westphalbaptist.org.

"Technology is wonderful, because it's allowing our congregation to feel connected and still part of our church community," Cambron said. "With Facebook, people have the chance during our livestream to send in prayer requests, and I'll repeat them for the camera."

About 75 people usually attend the Sunday service at the church, but the number of participants in the livestreams has been around 100 each week, he said.

More than half of Westphal's members are age 60 or older and/or have a chronic health condition, Cambron said, but many older members are well-versed in using online technology.

In recent weeks, Cambron has been using Paul's letter to the Philippians as the basis of his sermons.

"He had been imprisoned in Rome, and his whole life had been shut down," he said. "He didn't know what his future would be or even if he would live or die. It kind of relates to what we're going through now."

Paul encouraged the Philippians to pray during times of anxiety, Cambron said.

"We're at a time when people need reassurance and answers to the question of why we exist and the meaning of life," he said.

Life Community Church

About 400 people typically attend the 10 a.m. service each week at Life Community Church in Hilliard, lead pastor Dan Burmeister said.

"Easter is such an important time for our church, and it's going to be a challenge not being able to gather together on that day," he said. "We're trying to follow the health guidelines that have been set and manage the best we can."

The church began holding online services only March 15. The services are streamed on YouTube.

Life Community's members are invited to join "cell groups," smaller sets of church members who meet weekly, Burmeister said.

The church has 13 groups, some comprising people from a specific age range, but most with more generalized participants, he said.

The members of each cell group meet to explore the meaning of their faith, Burmeister said.

"They also do what we call 'one anothering,' which is being there to support, care and help one another," he said.

For the first Sunday of the online-only service, members of the various groups were encouraged to gather at their homes to watch the livestream, Burmeister said.

With more restrictive guidelines in place for social gatherings, many of the groups are video-conferencing so they still can be together to watch the services, he said. Other church members are watching with family.

As a related measure, the Hilliard Food Pantry, which operates behind the Life Community Church building at 4400 Cemetery Road, has switched to a drive-thru service to limit personal contact.

"They need help preparing the food boxes, and we've made it an initiative for our church members to help out," Burmeister said. "Each week, I'll get a call from the pantry director letting me know how many volunteer slots they need filled that week."

Adventure Church

Adventure Church in Lewis Center also has moved to online-only services.

Although this year's Easter Sunday will be like no other, the church has come up with a way to provide its members with everything they need to celebrate Easter in their homes, Hammond said.

"We're calling it 'Easter in a Box,' and our church members can drive to our church parking lot and pick up a box that will have communion, kids' crafts and activities and, since we won't be having our Easter egg hunt this year, some candy and other goodies," he said.

The pickup dates were set for 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. April 8 through Friday, April 10, and from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, April 11.

"When people drive up, they can tell us the number of items they need for boxes, depending on how many are in their family," Hammond said. "They don't have to get out of the car. We can put their boxes together and put them in the trunk of their car.

"It's not a normal time, but we want to make this Easter as normal as we can and preserve taking communion and other traditional elements that people really find meaningful."

Church members are encouraged to pick up a box for their family and another one to share with someone else, Hammond said.

This Easter season might be more somber than usual, but Hammond believes there is a silver lining to these difficult times, he said.

"People are stepping up to take care of one another and help people who need food or are in financial difficulty," he said. "We're seeing a lot more people coming back to the church. I really think we'll see a surge of people when we open back up, not only at our church, but at all churches."

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