Livestreamed Lord’s Supper: How churches are celebrating Holy Week in a pandemic

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Harm Venhuizen

Many congregations have had to resort to partaking in the Lord's Supper in front of a livestream.

Churches around Grand Rapids and across the country have instructed their congregations to gather in their homes before a livestream with whatever bread and juice they can find to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. That’s because this year’s Holy Week — the final week of Lent that recalls Jesus’s journey to the cross — could also mark one of the worst weeks of the novel coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., public health officials say.

As Easter approaches, Grand Rapids’ religious institutions are already in the middle of their plans to celebrate Holy Week while abiding by Governor Whitmer’s executive “shelter in place” orders. Father Scott Nolan, pastor at St. Stephen Catholic Church in East Grand Rapids, said that in addition to the livestreams of Sunday mass made available by the Diocese of Grand Rapids, his church has been livestreaming their celebrations of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter and posting resources for further reflection on their website.

Eastern Avenue CRC has done their best to continue offering their English and bilingual Sunday services by emailing pre-recorded songs, sermons and videos to their congregation each week. These resources are also mailed on CDs to those who don’t have computer access.

For Holy Week, Eastern Avenue CRC is offering online services from Sherman Street CRC to continue their history of holding a joint service in remembrance of the days before Easter with three other congregations. Reverend Thea Leunk, pastor of preaching and administration at Eastern Avenue CRC, expressed that it’s been difficult to adapt to the changes in format. “We are not a church that does livestreaming — we don’t even own a video camera,” she said.

Father Nolan said that one of the most difficult parts of worship in his congregation has been the distance. Expressing the importance of in-person sacraments to the Catholic faith, he said, “We need each other as a community of faith, but it is precisely our bodies which need to stay apart during this time.” He also said that, because the Eucharist is a sacrament in the Catholic church, communion will not be offered until it is safe to do so in person. Father Nolan and other priests have, however, been authorized by local hospitals to perform the sacrament of anointing the sick and bringing final communion to those who are dying.

Reverend Mary Hulst, Calvin University chaplain, offered encouragement to students during Holy Week, stating that all students are experiencing the same difficulties of being apart at this time, but that “my daily prayers are for our students, staff, and faculty, as we navigate these challenges. Know that you are not alone!” She also encouraged students to watch the worship videos and last year’s Holy Week services on Calvin’s Facebook page and in Student News.