This Holy Week, pews are empty but hearts "full"

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV)-- As worshippers around the world observe Holy Week, local religious leaders follow the “Safer at Home” order and take traditions virtual.

Pews are empty at the First United Methodist Church in Madison. All worship has moved online following the "Safer at Home" order.

Easter Sunday is coming much faster this year for First United Methodist Church lead pastor Mark Fowler.

“Tomorrow morning, I'll tape my Easter Sunday service,” Rev. Fowler said on Thursday. “I taped this evening’s service two days ago.”

The church building in Madison has been closed for about a month. Services, as well as sacraments, have moved online.

“We prepared our parishioners to gather bread and cup, so that we can celebrate together in all of our homes,” Rev. Fowler said, explaining how a virtual communion was celebrated Thursday night.

Without a physical gathering, many churches are choosing not to observe communion at all. This includes Catholic and most Lutheran churches in our area. The Diocese of Madison is instead asking Catholics to pray from home, at the time of communion during mass.

Thursday was also the second night of Passover, and Rabbi Jonathan Biatch explained that his synagogue broke bread online. 150 people behind the screens, he said, took part in a community meal.

“Despite the difficulties our attitude is that we’re going to celebrate nonetheless,” Rabbi Biatch said. “We can celebrate, still, the values that have come out of the seder and the lessons that it teaches us.”

On Easter Sunday, when church attendance is typically higher than usual, many churches will be empty. Rev. Fowler, however, said that his congregants are already feeling more “full,” after seeing the need for community.

"I think the very fundamentals of the proclamation of the Christian faith and other faiths-- to be together, to love one another, to be at peace with one another, to nurture each other into health-- all of these fundamentals into faith have become more poignant and more full," he said.

Governor Evers reiterated Thursday that drive-up services are allowed, as long as worshippers stay inside their cars. In-person services are also allowed, but only if there are no more than ten attendees.