MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Easter Sunday will look a bit different in the Mid-South as local leaders urge residents to worship online or in the privacy of their own homes during the coronavirus pandemic.
On one of the biggest church-going weekends of the year, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves wants people to worship and celebrate Easter at home. But ultimately, Gov. Reeves left the choice up to the people.
“In America and Mississippi, we’re not going to be the kind of government that shuts down worships,” he said.
After issuing his stay-at-home order, the governor called church leaders, who were resisting the change to let them know the order is temporary and only being issued to protect worshipers.
“I’ll be willing to cancel my service on Easter Sunday to give you that time until the 20th,” said Stanley Searcy pastor of the New Hope Vision Center in Natchez, Mississippi. “We don’t want to see any more Mississippians die.”
In Memphis, Mayor Jim Strickland, who previously called for harsher restrictions in neighboring counties, also asked residents to stay home due to safety concerns.
“It’s the right thing to do to protect our citizens and your congregation,” Strickland said. “This Easter, this Passover, we must come together to stay apart.”
After the latest pleas from government officials, it’s difficult to find any churches still planning to hold typical services.
Leaders hope Easter and the spiritual theme of loving one’s neighbor will transcend the global pandemic.
“Lives are on the line,” Gov. Reeves said. “We have to get everyone to understand the risk. This disease is deadly and extremely contagious. We can only save lives if everyone works together.”
Some churches are hopeful in-person services will return by the end of the month, but local governments have been reluctant to provide an official target date.