In-person religious services, celebrations return during holiday weekend

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- After two years of religious gatherings largely affected by the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many congregations across the Triangle are gearing up for full capacity this weekend.

"There's something special about the Triduum that the Catholic faith expresses. And the more people, the more humble I feel about it. It's just a very special time of year. And I love it," said Joyce Lowe, who attended Good Friday services at Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral in Raleigh.

Improved COVID-19 metrics, combined with widely available vaccines, have led most restrictions to be lifted, with more people comfortable returning in person.

"It really has been a lot of excitement because no matter how effective social media is and the virtual and live streaming, there's nothing like being in the presence of other people, believers, and the embrace of humanity is very special," said the Rev. Dr. Dumas Harshaw Jr., who serves as pastor at First Baptist Church in downtown Raleigh.

The church still requires masks and enforces social distancing, while offering live stream services for those not ready to return. Harshaw will also join five other faith leaders to take part in the Sunrise Service Sunday morning on the East side of the Capitol, which begins at 6:30; it will be the first time it's been held since the pandemic started.

Friday at sundown also signals the beginning of Passover, where many Jewish families will gather together for the first time in two years to observe.

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Friday at sundown also signals the beginning of Passover, where many Jewish families will gather together for the first time in two years to observe.

"We have people coming with family and friends in safe ways, that the shul and congregation can come together means so much. The holiday is about telling stories, about our ultimate story of the exodus, but it's also about personal opportunities for sharing. For recipes, for stories, for questions, for being together as much as we can be," said Rabbi Eric Solomon of Beth Meyer Synagogue in Raleigh.

Solomon will lead Seder at the synagogue.

"Holidays like this, this is the first time in two-plus years it fills this sense of - we are here to serve. We're looking forward to it. The people look forward to it. It's going to be celebratory in a way that builds appreciation," said Solomon.

Both Harshaw and Solomon pointed to the importance of the respective holidays within the backdrop of ongoing events, including the ongoing war in Ukraine.

"Even in the presence of people, we encourage each other. Because we all have been traumatized. We're being traumatized with the wars that are taking place, the violence, the shootings. Still all of the challenges that we face in our society and in our world today. So it's good to come together on a note of celebration. Of love and what it means and also hope that this too shall pass. And that's what the Resurrection really represents," said Harshaw.

"The themes of being forced to flee, that there's an oppressor, a kind of pharaoh, in modern-day we'd identify that with (Russian President) Vladimir Putin, who is sending people out to potentially sadly be enslaved or oppressed and have to run, and run towards ultimately freedom but how scary that it. In the story, we know how it ends up, but (this) story is still being written right now. So this re-telling of this story is also a source of inspiration, that we've been through terrible times before, not only our people but look at Ukrainians in general, and that we can make it towards the Promised Land together," Solomon said.
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