Local churches switch to livestreaming for Palm Sunday amid coronavirus pandemic

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Coronavirus concerns mean empty local pews for this year's Palm Sunday services in many cities and towns. Durham city and county leaders say no more than five people can meet in public or private groups.

So Reverend Jay Augustine, pastor of St. Joseph's AME Church said, "We will be gathering, not physically but we will be gathering. Some telephonically, some electronically, but we all will be gathering in the precious name of Christ to celebrate Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem."

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That change includes Holy Communion, he said.

"We're gonna do that for the first time virtually, so we're gonna do it for the first time in a symbolic action. The same logic will apply to the blessing of the palms. Rather than physically distributing the blessed palms, we're going to virtually distribute them."

While preparing for virtual Palm Sunday in Durham, Reverend Augustine's thinking about his hometown, New Orleans. It's known now for the highest death rate caused by coronavirus of any city in the nation. Just days ago, COVID-19 claimed the life of a New Orleans icon: Ellis Marsalis, the beloved pianist and educator whose musician sons made the family name synonymous with success in jazz.

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Augustine says he ministered to Marsalis family as their pastor before moving to Durham: "Historic St. James AME Church in downtown New Orleans is Mr. Marsalis's home church. As an optimist, I thank God for a life that was well-lived, a life that touched so many, and I thank God for the opportunity to serve as pastor to those in his family and as pastor of a church that was part of his Christian formation."

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Now he sees opportunities for the faithful as they adjust to Sunday services away from their familiar physical church.

"So I hope we will all, in spite of, celebrate the goodness of God. Think about all God's blessings in our lives, things past, and look at the glass now as perpetually half full, not half empty."
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