KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — With Easter on the way, some places of worship are reflecting on what this past year has meant for their faith, after overcoming new challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Plenty has changed, but other aspects have stayed the same.
In 2020, three local pastors gave insight into how things were going during Holy Week within their own congregations. In 2021, each spoke again to compare the two Easters spent in a pandemic.
During Holy Week and Easter Sunday in 2020, church parking lots were empty and congregations tuned in online instead.
"Easter Sunday was me and a cameraman in the back of the room, and so I just kind of preached to that guy," said Dan Spencer, the lead pastor at First Baptist Church Sevierville.
This year's worship will be different than last, in more ways than one. Some places of worship will have the chance to gather in person, celebrating the holiday.
"We're meeting again, which is great, I mean, there's just something about being together and singing together God's presence," said Jaime Goldenberg, the head pastor at Transformation Church in Knoxville.
The pastors said did not feel the same last year, when the COVID-19 pandemic prevented gatherings during Easter. They said that in the thick of the pandemic, there was more uncertainty about the future.
Father Joe Reed at St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Farragut said for a while there were just priests in the parish, and the staff had to use iPads to show the service.
"So one of the little purposes, or good things, that can come out of even trying and strange times is the fact that we see that the Lord is with us through it all," Reed said in 2020.
Now, the church has upgraded its camera and streaming equipment. It's better equipped to handle virtual worship services, and Reed's previous sentiment stayed the same.
"We're just at a different point in it," Reed said. "We start to see the glory of the Lord a little more clearly because we're gradually able to feel more relief."
While it can hurt to look back, it's powerful to see where they came from.
"We don't have the cure, but we have the answer — and that's Jesus," Goldenberg said in 2020.
He said he remembers thinking the pandemic would pass through in a month or two.
"I think now we've learned and we've seen God's been faithful in the whole thing," Goldenberg said.
The pastors all said that technology has stuck around in their congregations, helping to grow the crowds that tune in to listen to them speak. The technology isn't all that stuck around through the year, too.
They also said faith, hope and love helped through such a chaotic year so they could see Easter 2021.
"Unprecedented times call for unprecedented faith," Spencer said in 2020.
"If we focus on doing what's best, and what's most effective, what glorifies God the most, then that's really going to be our future," Spencer said in 2021.
These pastors hope in another year, pews and sanctuaries will be filled for good.
Many churches have started having communion again and are even adding more services for Easter weekend to space crowds out.