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Don’t expect a normal Easter

People of faith are increasingly confident that they can safely attend in-person worship services, but they still aren’t rushing back to church

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Rev. Patricia Hailes Fears, pastor of the Fellowship Baptist Church in Washington, is administered with the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine during a gathering of a group of interfaith clergy members, community leaders and officials at the Washington National Cathedral, to encourage faith communities to get the COVID-19 vaccine, Tuesday, March 16, 2021, in Washington. A growing share of Americans are ready to resume their pre-pandemic religious routines, but that doesn’t mean Passover, Easter and other upcoming holidays will be celebrated in the usual way, according to a new survey from Pew Research Center.

Manuel Balce Ceneta, Associated Press

This article was first published in the State of Faith newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox each Monday night.

A growing share of Americans are ready to resume their pre-pandemic religious routines, but that doesn’t mean Passover, Easter and other upcoming holidays will be celebrated in the usual way, according to a new survey from Pew Research Center.

Although more than three-quarters of U.S. adults who regularly attended religious services before the COVID-19 crisis feel confident they could safely go to church right now, only 42% reported they had actually done so in the past month, Pew found.

That second figure’s risen only 9% in the past nine months.

“As coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths decline and vaccination rates rise ... life in religious congregations is showing signs of slowly returning to normal,” researchers wrote. “Still, the situation in U.S. congregations remains far from ordinary.”

Pew’s new survey was conducted online from March 1-7. More than 12,000 Americans took part and the margin of error for the full sample is 1.5%.

Here are a few other key takeaways:

Evangelical Christians are feeling more confident about attending in-person worship than other people of faith.

  • The study showed that evangelicals are both more likely to feel safe going to church right now and more likely to have actually attended an in-person service in the past month than members of other faith groups.
  • Their confidence likely stems, at least in part, from their political beliefs. Pew found that Republicans are more ready than Democrats for pandemic-related restrictions to be lifted, and a large majority of evangelical Christians identify as members of the GOP.

Race makes a difference.

  • Although the COVID-19 pandemic has left almost no part of America untouched, data on hospitalizations and deaths shows that it has had a particularly devastating impact on communities of color. This may be why Black Christians are more worried about resuming in-person religious activities than white Christians, according to Pew.
  • Just one-third of Black Christians (32%) plan to go to their house of worship on Easter this year, compared to 41% of white Christians and 37% of Hispanic Christians. In a typical year, Blacks are more likely than either of the other two groups to be in church on Easter.

Few churches will be full at Easter.

  • As the results for Black Christians imply, most American believers plan to hold Easter services at their house this year. Overall, just 27% of U.S. adults will mark the day with a trip to church.
  • Some faith leaders will be perfectly happy with that data point, according to the survey. Only 12% of respondents who regularly attended church before the pandemic started said their house of worship is currently operating as if nothing is wrong.

Fresh off the press

Last Wednesday, the Senate held its first committee hearing on the Equality Act. I listened in on the discussion and wrote about what the bill’s supporters and opponents had to say.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, took part in the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on the Equality Act on Mar. 17 and discussed the bill’s potential impact on religious organizations.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, questions former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 3, 2020. Lee took part in the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on the Equality Act on Mar. 17 and discussed the bill’s potential impact on religious organizations.

Greg Nash, Associated Press


Term of the week: Palm Sunday

Growing up, I loved Easter Sunday. I usually had a new pastel-colored dress to wear and got to play my trumpet during the worship service.

I loved the Sunday before Easter, too, even though I had to wear my regular, boring church clothes. It was the only time all year I got to wave a palm frond around while the pastor gave the sermon.

If you have no clue what I’m talking about, then you’ve probably never heard of Palm Sunday, or the day when some Christian churches commemorate the Bible story about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. The palm fronds symbolize the fronds that were placed on the ground to welcome Jesus and the disciples. Churches that celebrate Palm Sunday often collect the used fronds, burn them and then use the resulting ashes for the next year’s Ash Wednesday service.


What I’m reading...

If you read my introduction, you might have noticed that Pew’s survey was conducted entirely online. There’s a reason for that: Pew, like many research organizations, has determined that online surveys seem to yield more accurate data than surveys conducted by phone because participants are less worried about being judged for their answers. Christianity Today has a fascinating new article out about that phenomenon, which includes this fascinating detail: “About 10% of Americans will say they go to church regularly if asked by a human but will say they don’t if asked online.”

After last week’s tragic attack on Asian women in Atlanta, Asian-American churches are calling on Christians to do more to address racially motivated violence. “There’s opportunities among faith communities that we need to stand up together and reach out to communities that are hurting,” said the Rev. Kevin Park to The Associated Press. “I think there needs to be kind of this movement toward solidarity.”

Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, published a thought-provoking column this week on racism within the world of religious freedom advocacy. She questioned why Americans rarely discuss the contributions of Black leaders like Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King, Jr. when they discuss religious rights and described her own organization’s failures to embrace diverse perspectives.


Odds and ends

Have you heard of Clubhouse? It’s a smartphone app that allows you to listen in on panel discussions covering everything from technology trends to religion on Mars. I haven’t joined yet, but I’m starting to think about it after seeing some coverage in faith-based publications. It sounds like faith leaders are turning to Clubhouse to help nonreligious or religiously unengaged people better understand religious issues.