After year of pandemic darkness, North Carolina churches welcome Easter's promise of light

For many Christians this year, Easter feels like a light at the end of the tunnel following a year of pandemic darkness.

The News and Observer's Martha Quillin explores the story of Chapel Hill's University Presbyterian Church as it prepares for Easter service amid the ongoing pandemic.

For many, it's hard not to draw analogies to the very story of Jesus' death and resurrection that choir members were preparing to celebrate.

Except for a short gathering on Christmas Eve, Easter morning will be the first in-person worship service for University Presbyterian's congregation since the pandemic forced the closure of the church building more than a year ago.

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"A lot of people are starting to feel like there is some light at the end of the tunnel," said Jarrett McLaughlin, who pastors University Presbyterian with his wife, Meg Peery McLaughlin, "That cannot help but resonate with the Easter proclamation. We're definitely feeling all of that in this season of Lent. In some ways, it's been a year of Lent."

In 2020, Easter was just a month after schools, businesses and churches shut down in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Most church celebrations were canceled, and the message of hope found in the Gospel stories of Jesus' death and resurrection was a promise that after weeks or months of certain deprivation and isolation caused by the pandemic, life would get better.

Easter 2021 seems to bring some fulfillment of the promise.

COVID-19 still looms in North Carolina with cases slightly increasing in March following massive declines from the pandemic's peak.

The number of North Carolinians being vaccinated against the virus rises daily too. Many have returned to schools and families can visit relatives in nursing homes. Businesses are expanding hours and concerts planners are getting back to scheduling events.

Churches who haven't already resumed in-person worship are considering how they can do so soon. All of this coincides with the rebirth and renewal spring represents.

"What Easter means to me is, there is no such thing as anything being beyond repair," McLaughlin said. "There is always new life on the other side of whatever dead ends we feel like we're in."

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