'God will make a way': Detroit churches give Easter messages of hope amid pandemic

Ariana Taylor
The Detroit News

A year ago, an executive order from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer kept people in their homes and made Easter services virtual as the pandemic took hold. 

Now, while COVID-19 restrictions across the state have eased, allowing for in-person religious services, cases of the virus are surging again, reaching levels not seen since the fall.

But the message in some Detroit churches was of the hope gained since last year's Resurrection Sunday. 

During the outdoor service at Christ Church on Jefferson, the sun heated parishioners'  faces as the Detroit River offered a cool breeze. Birds chirped while the Rev. Emily Williams Guffey gave a short message on God making a way through hard times.

"We've been through hard things, we've been through hard things before this year ... and just as God made a way through the Red Sea, God will make a way through the pandemic," Guffey said on Sunday. 

Rector Emily Williams Guffey, left, talks with Lauren Leney, John Leney, and their daughter, Erin Leney, 22, all of Troy, before the outdoor service on Easter Sunday at Christ Church in Detroit on April 4, 2021.

Easter Sunday was Christ Church's first outdoor service, aside from Palm Sunday, since last fall. 

Jacqueline Gjonaj, 25, of Warren said Easter is her favorite holiday. She said she was upset last year when she couldn't celebrate it at church. "This year, my mom saw that it was an outdoor service and we said we have to go. It's just a wonderful thing," Gjonaj said. 

Jacqueline Gjonaj, 25, of Warren picks up a lily to take home after the outdoor service on Easter Sunday at Christ Church in Detroit on April 4, 2021.

The church held three brief services, and attendance was limited to 35 people at each. The main service also was streamed online.

Though the service was small, people had to wear masks and an online COVID-19 screening was required for all who attended. Churchgoers said they were grateful to have a sense of normalcy for the holiday. 

"I felt choked up during service because it's been such a hard winter," said Kathryn Lincoln, 65, of Royal Oak. 

Archbishop Allen Vigneron, right, sprinkles the congregation with holy water on Easter Sunday at Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit on April 4, 2021.

A few miles away, cars lined the street in front of the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament on Woodward for Easter Mass.

Inside, every other row sat three to four people or was filled with a family sitting together. "X" markers on the floor directed people to social distance from each other and masks were required.

Communion was handed out to each, and parishioners quickly co theirs while being mindful of keeping up their masks.

"With people getting the vaccinations and everything ... and because I got vaccinated myself, I felt a little more at ease, and then our church is open just for a few, not for a whole lot of people," said Stacia English, 57, of Clinton Township.

The congregation come forward to take communion during Mass on Easter Sunday at Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit on April 4, 2021.

The Mass service was also livestreamed, but the general dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days expired on March 13, despite the recent surge in virus cases. 

"We especially need, I believe, this gift of peace and renewed hope in these days that continue to be challenging in the pandemic," said Detroit  Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron on Sunday. 

More than 70 congregations in the diocese had mostly been worshipping and assembling remotely during the pandemic.