Storm results in flurry of decisions around Passover and Easter

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INSTEAD of public health restrictions around COVID-19 cancelling or curtailing Easter and Passover celebrations, an early spring blizzard will keep the faithful home instead this weekend.

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INSTEAD of public health restrictions around COVID-19 cancelling or curtailing Easter and Passover celebrations, an early spring blizzard will keep the faithful home instead this weekend.

Christians planned to celebrate the Easter season together this year for the first time since 2019, beginning with services today and on Good Friday.

The Jewish festival of Passover, which commemorates the Hebrews’ freedom from slavery in Egypt, begins Friday evening and continues until Saturday, April 23.

But as the snowstorm progressed on Wednesday, churches and synagogues were swept up in a flurry of decisions about whether to proceed with their weekend services. St. John’s Anglican Cathedral and other city churches decided to move their Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services online as they hold out hope the weather will clear in time to hold services on Easter Sunday.

“My primary concern, as with COVID, is safety first, for staff, volunteers, and for all who might attend,” Rev. Paul Johnson wrote in an email announcing that the North End cathedral would be closed until at least Saturday.

“Please stay safe, stay home if you can, and pray for all who do not have our choices.”

Church of the Rock still planned to hold its annual Easter musical that riffs off pop culture, presenting three performances of the Lion King of Judah on Saturday and Sunday as well as streaming it online. The 35-minute musical written by Pastor Mark Hughes was initially intended for Easter in 2020 but was shelved when the coronavirus pandemic closed down public gatherings.

“All we do is tell the story of Easter,” he said of the 11-actor production, which sets the Easter story on the African savanna and takes its name from the reference to the Lion of the Tribe of Judah in the book of Revelation.

“All of a sudden, people hear the gospel in a way they’ve never heard it before.”

The Good Friday service at the United Church in Meadowood will move exclusively online and an outdoor communion service scheduled for Wednesday evening was cancelled due to the storm, said Rev. Caryn Douglas.

She said members of her southeast Winnipeg congregation are more adaptable after dealing with continuous changes in gathering protocols over the last two years.

“Folks almost seem proud that they know how to pivot, like COVID taught us something,” she said in a text message.

Congregation Shaarey Zedek closed its building for the rest of the week and moved most events and services to virtual only, but still planned to hold a congregational seder on Saturday, weather permitting, said Rabbi Anibal Mass.

“The blizzard is telling us how important it is to keep technology going,” he said of the decision to continue with livestreamed services after two years of restrictions.

All services at the Wellington Crescent synagogue are hybrid, which gives leaders the opportunity to move quickly from in-person to virtual service only, he said.

“Our message is ‘Stay home, don’t even try to drive (here),” said Mass of possible weather cancellations.

“We’ll send the service to you.”

That’s also the thinking behind the recorded Easter vigil produced by the Manitoba/ Northwestern Ontario Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. Produced for the first time last year as a way to invite Lutherans to worship together from home during the pandemic, this year’s edition has the added benefit of being weather-proof, said Deacon Michelle Collins.

“We discovered we like a way to express the diversity of the synod,” she said of the hour-long service, which includes about 50 people from 15 congregations and features components in English, German and Finnish. It is available on the synod’s YouTube channel on Saturday at 5 p.m.

After a two-year hiatus, Roman Catholics across Winnipeg anticipate the return of the Public Way of the Cross at 9 a.m. Good Friday. The 90-minute walk is scheduled to start and finish from the parking lot of St. Nicholas Tavelich Roman Catholic Church, 2688 Main St.

“If there are (rain) showers, we should be OK to walk, but with snow it might be a different story,” said planner Veronica Diestro of the Archdiocese of Winnipeg, which sponsors the event, now in its 33rd year. Cancellation or changes due to weather will be posted on the archdiocese’s website and social media.

This weekend’s weather may be a blessing in disguise, suggests Collins, since some people are uncomfortable meeting in large crowds, even for an important day such as Easter.

“Even without the storm, not everyone has the same interest or capacity to gather in the same place,” she said.

“It’s just about people’s level of interest and confidence in gathering.”

faith@freepress.mb.ca

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