ALBEMARLE — As the COVID-19 pandemic enters its second year, Stanly County churches are left with the decision of how to run their services during what is the holiest week of the Christian calendar. Many are offering both in-person and online options, with the in-person attendance often including mask requirements, spaced seating and the need to make reservations beforehand to limit crowds.
Stanly County has dozens of active churches, but below are the plans for a few of the prominent ones on how they intend to gather for Holy Week in 2021. If you plan to attend any services in person, make sure to check with that specific church’s website for more information on their practices before arriving.
First Baptist Church of Albemarle, a downtown church founded more than a century ago, has been in a “regathering” phase since March 7.
“Worship will be both in person and online,” a statement on their website says. “During this phase of regathering, we can only have 75 individuals in the sanctuary for Worship, and we ask that you continue to wear your mask and socially distance from one another. Following the service, plan to exit the building, and if you want to talk and catch up, do so outside the building.”
During Holy Week, First Baptist is planning on having a “Tenebrae service” on Maundy Thursday at 7 p.m. Tenebrae services go back to medieval monasteries, where they would gradually extinguish the Lenten candles, leaving complete darkness in preparation for Good Friday, the day of Jesus’ death. On Easter, FBC will then have an 11 a.m. morning service to celebrate the resurrection.
In Locust, NewLife Church is having two Easter services, 8:45 a.m. and 10:45 a.m., both of which have in-person and online options. On its social media, the church says, “Easter is just around the corner! We want you to come celebrate with us here at NewLife on April 4th! Invite your friends, coworkers, family, and everyone you know to share in this wonderful occasion. It might just change their life forever.”
Stanly County’s only Catholic Church, Albemarle’s Our Lady of the Annunciation, will be celebrating in–person during Holy Week but with no streaming options. The Charlotte Diocese’s Bishop Peter Jugis, along with nearly all dioceses, has waived the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days during the pandemic. Despite this, churches are still free to offer services, with proper precautions, to those who wish to attend. Services will take place every day during Holy Week.
The Paschal Triduum, which is the three-day period from the evening Maundy Thursday until sundown on Easter, will see services at 7 p.m. on Thursday; 3 p.m. on Good Friday for the Passion of the Lord; and again at 7 p.m. for the Stations of the Cross; 8 p.m. Saturday for the Easter Vigil; and then on Sunday for Easter services at 9:30 a.m. There will also be an Easter Mass in Spanish at 12:15 p.m.
The county has many Methodist churches, but due to guidance from their conference leadership, they are offering mostly online options. Norwood First UMC is having indoor worship with distancing and masks, in addition to their drive-thru and online options. While Wesley Chapel in Misenheimer has a statement on their website saying, “As we seek to care for the health and safety of our neighbors during this covid-19 pandemic, we have ceased all in-person gatherings,” they continue to have services and will have an 11 a.m. drive-thru gathering for Easter.
West Stanly Baptist Church will be having in–person services, with a sunrise service at 7 a.m. Easter morning, Sunday school for grades K-12 from 7:30 a.m. to 8 a.m., breakfast at 8 a.m. and morning worship at 9 a.m. For the breakfast held between the two services, the church asks those wanting to attend to bring one or two items to share. West Stanly Baptist’s website says for those who are not comfortable coming inside the sanctuary, they have a “COVID safe room” and will also broadcast live on the radio, at 100.7 FM, and on their Facebook page.
Restrictions on in-person church attendance in North Carolina were lifted by a judge almost a year ago, but most churches continue to limit attendance and to add distancing and masking requirements. Online services have largely replaced in-person services during the pandemic.