BY TREVOR PFEIFER
For much of the religious community in Hays, Easter Sunday is a time for family, friends and fellowship. It is a holy day characterized by large gatherings and celebrations throughout many denominations of the Christian faith. However, with ever-growing concerns regarding the danger of COVID-19, many churchgoers are confused about how they should celebrate this coming weekend.
Following Gov. Laura Kelly’s statewide stay at home order in late March, many churches made the challenging transition to hosting services online, opting to stream or upload them to YouTube and Facebook rather than gathering in person.
On Tuesday, the situation developed further as Kelly attempted to double down on church gatherings by issuing an executive order that limits these services to 10 people or less, citing services with more than 10 people as in part responsible for the spread of COVID-19.
“We’ve come to learn that at least three instances of COVID-19 community spread have happened in connection with religious gatherings,” Kelly said in her announcement of the executive order. “This comprises 25% of the clusters being tracked by KDHE.”
On Wednesday, Kansas lawmakers overturned Kelly’s order, calling into question its constitutionality. Without the executive order in place, churchgoers would be free to gather as normal, but would risk furthering the spread of COVID-19. This has resulted in mixed signals for those looking to celebrate the upcoming Easter holiday.
Even with Kelly’s order overturned, many churches are still following Kelly’s recommendation to limit group sizes to 10 or less, encouraging parishioners to continue to practice social distancing, and to join their online services instead.
One Hays parishioner, Ember Wickham, agrees with Kelly’s limit on church services.
“Personally, I think Gov. Kelly’s decision is smart,” Wickham said. “I don’t think churches should be having services with everything that is going on. It wouldn’t be possible to maintain the amount of social distancing that is necessary right now. Also, it would be difficult to keep attendance numbers controlled and keep up with adequate sanitization procedures.”
Wickham will also be following the advised social distancing rules, even as the Easter holiday approaches.
“My Easter Sunday will be spent with my husband and our daughter,” she said. “We were invited to a family celebration, but we are choosing not to attend because we are trying our hardest to social distance.”
Wickham also encourages others to follow proper social distancing practices.
“In regard to those that are not social distancing, I wish they would. I think it’s irresponsible to continue with their regular communications because they think it won’t affect them directly,” Wickham said. “Yes, being away from friends and family can get lonely, but the sooner everyone starts working to flatten the COVID curve, the sooner we can get back to our normal lives.”
Another community member, Brenda Klaus, details what her holiday will look like during this unusual time.
“We’ll be celebrating Easter alone, just like most everyone else,” Klaus said. “We’ve been blessed to be able to partake in masses virtually, so we’ll prepare for Easter the same way we would if we were going to church,”
Regarding the closing of church services and Governor Kelly’s executive order, Klaus said that she kept the bigger picture in mind.
“It was hard to understand and accept at first, but we need to remember that God is everywhere, not only in our houses of worship,” Klaus said. “I believe that there are times when our leaders have to make very difficult decisions, and this is one of those unfortunate times–one we never thought we’d see in our lifetimes. Closing churches is very much a safety measure for all those around us.”
Yet, even in times like these, Klaus still looks for the positive side of things.
“I believe I’ve actually grown in my faith through much reflection and just seeing how everyone is coming together in this difficult time,” Klaus said. “I do believe that God is giving us this time to reflect on what changes we can make in our lives and in our world. This separation of church and family is perhaps what we all needed. It’s our second chance.”
For anyone looking to watch an Easter service, many churches are doing so online. The following churches’ websites and social media pages have information on where to find some of these services.