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Easter services return to Southwest Florida

Reporter: Sydney Persing Writer: Jackie Winchester

Southwest Florida churches are hosting Easter Sunday services spanning from indoor to outdoor and even virtually as the pandemic continues.

Those who celebrate Easter reflect on how Jesus defeated death. It’s a story of victory and hope, and it’s hard to ignore the parallel there when you think about the fact that last Easter, churches had closed their doors.

This year, though, “It was an invitation for us to invite our people to place their hope and trust in God even in the midst of the unknown of the current circumstances,” said Grace Church Pastor Jorge Acevedo.

“It will give them the opportunity to know that we’re moving forward, to know that there’s a little healing taking place within society also, in terms of viewing this pandemic,” said Bishop Frank Dewane of the Diocese of Venice.

Grace Church held an outdoor sunrise service, and Acevedo said they also have other ways for people to enjoy Easter services however they’re most comfortable, including online and on-demand.

Pastors have been focused on how many people will attend Easter services in person, but whether it’s in-person or online, they’re expecting a sizable turnout because it’s Easter, a very holy holiday when churches see their highest attendance.

However, new data from Gallup tells a different story. For the first time since 1937, when Gallup started collecting this information, the number of Americans who consider themselves part of a church has dropped below 50%.

“It’s been very painful for me as a pastor,” Acevedo said. “I’ve been here for 25 years. I love this community and it’s been painful for me to see followers of Jesus who’ve taken up the rhetoric of our culture instead of the tools of their faith to navigate through these difficult times.”

It has been an incredibly difficult year, but Gallup’s research shows this trend isn’t unique to 2020 or 2021. In recent years, data has shown there’s been a considerable shift away from religious institutions.