Local religious groups celebrate seasonal holidays amid COVID-19, again

Reverend Duane Nettles leads an Easter service in Monroe Park for the Grace and Holy Trinity Church. Photo by Wessam Hazaymeh

Sagal Ahmed, Contributing Writer

Local faith-based organizations are celebrating April holidays while following COVID-19 regulations for the second time since the pandemic began. 

Members of the Grace and Holy Trinity Church, located next to Monroe Park, celebrated Easter this year through a livestream. Reverend Kimberly Reinholz said the congregation switched to the platform three months ago after spending last year’s Easter with a pre-recorded video. 

“From the perspective of the person that’s preaching, it’s kind of nice to know that other people are listening at the time that you’re preaching,” Reinholz said. 

The church also celebrated through a short spoken service in Monroe Park and an in-person worship service, with the exception of collective singing and Holy Communion. Members were required to wear masks and social distance. The Monroe Park event marked the church’s first in-person service since March 2020. 

Reinholz said this was a unique way to observe the beginning of the Easter season, which lasts for 50 days until the feast of Pentecost on May 23. 

“The reason that Easter is important is that God came to show us how to love one another,” Reinholz said. 

The church typically holds a spoken service, meaning no singing, followed by another service that is family oriented. A children’s sermon is typically held, followed by the decorating of a wooden cross with flowers. The congregation then sings “Hallelujah” together followed by a brunch in the church’s parish hall.

Reinholz compared past Easter celebrations to royal weddings, such as that of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex.

“Except for it’s not about two people but just about like all those bells and whistles that you saw, all the flowers, all the music, all the preaching and all of that,” Reinholz said. 

The Muslim Students Association at VCU is working on ways to celebrate the holy Islamic month of Ramadan, which is from mid-April to mid-May this year.

Fasting during Ramadan is a part of the five pillars of Islam, the religion’s core beliefs, along with donating to charity. Both acts are practiced during the month and are significant to the Muslim community, according to MSA historian Eisha Khan.

“It’s a month that a lot of people get closer to their religion,” Khan said. 

A churchgoer reads from a service booklet at Easter Sunday Service in Monroe Park for the Grace and Holy Trinity Church. Photo by Wessam Hazaymeh

Most of the organization’s efforts will go toward providing iftar, a meal eaten when Muslims break their fasts at sundown, for students, Khan said. 

“We’re not with our families,” Khan said. “We’re going to be homesick. We’re not going to have our mothers cooking for us but we still want everyone to have food to break their fast with.”

VCU’s MSA will provide prepackaged food from local restaurants rather than homemade food to abide by COVID-19 regulations. Dates and water will go out with the prepackaged meals, since both are commonly used to break the fast.

The student organization is not holding in-person Friday prayers, or jumaat, but it does conduct virtual khutbahs, sermons practiced by the imam, or prayer leader, before prayer. 

The student organization plans to increase its social media presence to engage the community through posting religious verses from the Quran. Khan plans to continue to have Fun Fact Fridays with “light-hearted” Ramadan facts and add historical facts on Thursdays.

“I’m really hoping that the MSA community will really participate in that because I really want them to feel like there is a community,” Khan said.

Another religious holiday in April is Passover, a week-long holiday observed by the Jewish community. The holiday celebrates the liberation of Jewish slavery in Egypt. 

Student group Jewish Life celebrated Passover this year by handing out to-go kits with items such as grape juice to make kiddush needed for Seder, another name for Passover dinner. Students were able to pick the boxes up, while those not living on campus received them through mail. 

The boxes contained homemade unleavened bread, known as matzah, shipped from Israel, according to assistant event coordinator Jenna Hasher.

“A little bit more fancy than what we did in years past,” Hasher said. 

The organization normally celebrates Passover with an in-person Seder and by going through the story behind Passover and prayers.    

Hasher said the holiday is about “escaping your own personal slavery.”

“Maybe you are struggling with personal issues or mental health or anything, it’s kind of about being able to grow past that and liberate yourself from those kind of problems that you’re having,” Hasher said.

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