PORTLAND, Oregon — Outside Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church Friday night, it was clear how many people felt: never had a Good Friday felt so good.
“It's always a blessing to come to the house of the Lord,” said Gregory Stewart. “I didn't have to be here, but God blessed me.”
Fellow church member Catherine Brown agreed.
“It's a beautiful day, it's Good Friday, I feel liberated!” said Brown. “When you see other people that you've been separated from for about a year now, it's just rejoicing.”
Before entering the North Portland sanctuary, every guest went through a sanitation booth. Guests planning to attend church on Easter Sunday can expect the same, along with other COVID-19 safety precautions.
“People will be happy to be here Sunday, there's no question,” said Pastor J.W. Matt Hennessee, "but we have a limit as to how many people will be allowed in the building.”
Hennessee said he’s thrilled to see his community come together, but takes state health regulations seriously.
“Those who come to church, we really do encourage No. 1 to be vaccinated,” said Hennessee. “No. 2, you have to be distanced; No. 3, recognize you’ve got to go through the sanitation booth and No. 4, you still have to be willing to wear a face covering.”
The holiday weekend comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is asking people to not let their guard down against COVID-19, warning of a potential fourth wave of the virus. In Oregon, health officials reported that during the week of March 22, the number of cases rose 28% from the week before. Statistics like that have led many faith communities to further postpone in-person gatherings.
“We see it as a responsibility in our synagogue to make sure that our congregation is kept safe and the community at large,” said Rabbi Michael Cahana of Congregation Beth Israel in Northwest Portland.
Cahana continues to hold virtual gatherings for his synagogue including on Friday night, when they celebrated the last day of Passover. He said he feels a common bond with people of all faiths who are celebrating during this season.
“I think we're all giving this message of hopefulness and renewal,” said Cahana, “That we can begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel."
It's a sense of optimism that so many share, whether through a screen or at a social distance.
“Appreciate the joy of being alive,” said Brown. “Being around the people that care about you and that you love.”