The Anglican Church’s Dean of Melbourne, Andreas Loewe, said that last year, he had delivered a “lonely” and “isolating” live-streamed Easter service to hundreds of followers watching remotely, but none inside St Paul’s Cathedral.
“We were celebrating Easter with an empty cathedral and a lot of cameras. That was a very strange experience,” he said.
On Easter Sunday at the cathedral, churchgoers will be limited to a third of capacity, or 450 people, as they gather for the 6.30am and 10am services.
Dr Loewe said now that many people could return to church, their enthusiasm had grown.
“We don’t take the privilege of coming together for granted any more,” Dr Loewe said.
But he said last year also brought more followers to the church due to opportunities to watch services on television and online.
“A lot of people have come forward to our in-person worship and said, ‘your television services have been a lifeline to us during the lockdown’,” Dr Loewe said.
Easter is traditionally a time when adults are baptised, to dovetail with themes of Christ’s resurrection and new life, but there were no baptisms last Easter.
During this Easter Sunday’s 6.30am service, 14 adults will be baptised, most of them fully immersed in a step-down font just inside the cathedral entrance.
Dr Loewe said the 6.30am service, including lighting an Easter candle outside, was “a good metaphor of what we are going through as a community”.
“We have been in the darkness, have longed for life and light and we are now entering that,” he said.
Father Steven Rigo, parish priest at St Mary’s Catholic Church in Greensborough, in Melbourne’s north-east, was due to baptise three adults at the parish’s Easter Saturday 6pm Vigil mass.
Father Rigo said that last year, about 300 households watched each of the St Mary’s pre-recorded Easter services.
“It was very sad,” he said. “But it was the only option that we had, to have people connected to what is probably the most important set of feast days of the Christian calendar.”
St Mary’s can hold more than 500 people but at present is limited to 180 at a time, with bookings required via TryBooking. Father Rigo said many parishioners, especially vulnerable ones, still felt reticent to join a crowd.
The Reverend Katrina Lambert, pastor at NewHope Baptist Church in Blackburn North, said the Easter services, usually drawing crowds of about 950, would be watched by hundreds more, thanks to both a live and online audience.
“We have had to adjust how we do things to accommodate two different audiences, the one that is digitally present and the one that is physically present,” Ms Lambert said.
“I am amazed at the way that last year’s transition to online worship opened up accessibility to people.”
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Carolyn Webb is a reporter for The Age.