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Keeping the Faith: How Easter, Passover gatherings are adapting to social distancing

Both holidays are marked by large gatherings in the home or in a house of worship, and officials warn to continue social distancing.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Passover starts at sundown Wednesday, and Easter is this Sunday. These are holidays usually marked by big gatherings at home or at a house of worship, but health officials and state leaders have warned against that.

"As hard as it is to miss out on so many family traditions, consider your life and the lives of your loved ones, we want everyone present and healthy for next year's celebrations," North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said in a briefing on the coronavirus Tuesday.

However, Charlotte-area spiritual leaders say that social distancing shouldn't mean a disconnect from faith and family.

"I'm not thankful for the hurt and pain that people are going through," said Pastor Spence Shelton, lead pastor at Mercy Church. "I am thankful that Easter is here to offer this mountain of hope when we need it most."

Like many other churches, Mercy Church will be streaming Easter Sunday services online. While the times are uncertain and scary for some, Shelton thinks the day's message of hope and resurrection might be all the more needed.

"Maybe they've heard that message, but maybe it's been an abstract idea, and now, they're ready for that to be something real to them," Shelton said. "That message is still there: There's nobody too far gone, too messed up to receive that, receive that in abundance today. There is hope in this dark time."

At Temple Beth El, services have switched to online, too.

As Passover approaches, so does Seder, a special dinner that gathers loved ones together. Social distancing has changed that, too.

"I encourage people to have Seders, but it's going to look a little different," said Rabbi Asher Knight, Temple Beth El's Senior Rabbi. "You're not going to have large groups or gatherings of family around, but they might be in multiple time zones over Zoom and Skype and online mediums."

Knight thinks the story of Passover is also one that can translate to today.

"Our tradition tells us that, just like the story of Egypt and the exodus from Egypt, that there was a better place and a promised land and an opportunity in front of us, and the way in which we get there is by walking in support and hand-in-hand together," Knight said.

And while we won't be physically hand-in-hand right now, both faith leaders say that doesn't have to diminish the experience.

"You have to feel your feels," Knight said. "Even though you might be physically distanced from other people, you're really not alone, and perhaps we need to connect in together this year in ways we haven't before."

"What we've said is that social distancing doesn't mean spiritual distancing, you can still remain close to one another and close to God in heaven who makes a way for us," Shelton said.

Mercy Church and Temple Beth El are just two places of worship that have tried to adapt to the coronavirus crisis, offering services, social events, and study groups remotely -- yet another example of how the human spirit tried to overcome and come together despite the obstacles.

For more information on Temple Beth El's online services, including materials on celebrating a virtual Seder, visit its website here.

Mercy Church will stream its Easter service at 9:45 a.m., Sunday, April 12. You can watch here.

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