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Florida Church Members Mostly Worshipping Separately On Easter

Easter is often called the "Super Bowl of Sundays" for churches. 

It's a time when Christians and those seeking a spiritual connection flock to houses of worship.  It's not happening much these days, even though Florida officials have classified worship as "an essential activity." 

The new normal in a time of coronavirus is online communion from your living room couch with your own grape juice and bread or crackers and singing worship songs along with a choir on YouTube.

And of course, there can be no signs of peace that include a friendly handshake or a hug. 

On Easter Sunday, Bishop Gregory Parkes, spiritual leader of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, home to some 480,000 Roman Catholics and 74 parishes across Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Polk and Citrus counties, delivered the Easter Mass on TV and through Facebook.

A prayer said by those who cannot receive communion in person
Credit Susan Giles Wantuck / WUSF Public Media
WUSF Public Media
Screen capture of 'Act of Spiritual Communion' displayed during Sunday's Easter service from the Diocese of St. Petersburg

Speaking from the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle in St. Petersburg, Parkes told viewers, "God is always with us, and no matter what difficulties, what anxieties, what fears we may be dealing with at this time, that Jesus Christ will lift us from those."

He reminded worshippers that those who share in Christ's sufferings will also share in his glory. In lieu of communion, those watching saw an image called Act of Spiritual Communion on their screens.

Bishop Thomas Scott of Tampa's 34th Street Church of God told his congregation attending services both in person and online, "Trust God when you don't understand, trust God when you can't see, trust God when it doesn't make sense. Don't let your fear of what did happen, what is happening, or what might happen block you from what can happen."

Before Gov. Ron DeSantis' "stay-at-home" order to Floridians said that church attendance is regarded an essential activity, Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne of The River Church in Tampa was arrested for violating Hillsborough County's "safer-at-home" ordinance. 

Recently, Craig Altman, Senior Pastor at Grace Family Church, which has campuses across Tampa Bay, told" target="_blank">CBS This Morning that church leaders decided to stop holding in-person services "out of love."

And Altman said online-only church services are reaching 45,000 households, for a church that has 11,000 members.  

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