Just a few days ago, the number of people allowed inside Maine churches was bumped up to 50% of the building’s capacity. 

For some of those preparing to celebrate Holy Week and Easter Sunday, the change came just in the nick of time — local churches have plenty of plans in place to mark the death of Jesus Christ and his ultimate resurrection.  

“It starts tonight,” the Rev. Daniel Greenleaf said Wednesday,” with a concert on the steps of the Basilica for what’s called Tenebrae.” 

On Thursday, it was the Mass of the Last Supper followed by morning prayers the following day, stations of the cross and an almost nonstop series of services and activities to mark the season. 

Greenleaf is pastor of Prince of Peace Parish, which includes five area Roman Catholic churches: the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, Holy Cross and Holy Family in Lewiston, Holy Trinity Church in Lisbon Falls and Our Lady of The Rosary in Sabattus. 

Like other church leaders, Greenleaf has now suffered through a full year of attempting to manage services under the restrictions of COVID-19. For Easter, they want to make sure they’re doing things right.

“All the priests are working double time just to make sure there are enough services for everyone who wants to go,” Greenleaf said.  

While other churches have opted for online services only during the pandemic, Greenleaf has done everything possible to ensure that his flock can still worship in person if they want to. 

Camera operator Devyn St. Jean, right, and his helper Connie LaPointe try to stay dry Wednesday as a light drizzle comes down while they film the Tenebrae Service at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

It’s no easy feat, either. Masks must be worn and social distancing guidelines adhered to. 

“It still looks pretty strange,” he said, “everybody with masks on, talking, touching and hugging nobody. It’s weird but you know, it is what it is.” 

The Prince of Peace Parish churches will offer communion, Greenleaf said, but the service has been modified to allow for proper distance between worshipers.

Before last week, Mills had limited church services to 50 people or five people per 1,000 square feet of space, whichever was greater. 

Some church leaders complained about those restrictions and the response was that Mills upped the limit to 50% of capacity beginning March 26. State officials say that will go up to 75% on May 24. 

Greenleaf said that in large part due to the sheer size of the Basilica — under current restrictions, up to 600 people can safely worship there while still maintaining social distance — he expects that everybody who wants to celebrate the season in person will be able to do so comfortably. 

It’s not so easy at some smaller churches, and many of them have opted to stick with digital services and outdoor activities during Holy Week. Calvary United Methodist Church in Lewiston, for instance, offered a Maundy Thursday church service on Zoom and will hold an Easter morning service that way. 

“The church IS open!” according to a message on their webpage. “It’s just the building that’s closed.”

The Unitarian Universalist Church in Auburn is also limiting its Sunday service to Zoom, using an online form through which worshipers can log in.

Yet, some church leaders are hankering for a return to live church gatherings even while online services might be easier to manage. 

“We encourage all churchgoers to pray about getting back into their church buildings for worship,” according to a post on the Auburn Church of the Nazarene’s Facebook page. “We are called to be encouragers for one another. Easter is on her way so we need to get back into the routine or habit of attending church collectively in our choice of place of worship. If you do not have a place of worship, we extend the right hand of fellowship here at 38 Summer St., Auburn.” 

Other churches are mixing things up.

East Auburn Baptist Church is having regular services all weekend, some inside the church and others outside, where worshipers will sit in chairs they bring for the service.

St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Auburn is offering a Zoom service on Good Friday and services on Sunday that include a “drive-by Eucharist” followed by outdoor communion.

Greenleaf said although there is a lot of work and forethought required to conduct services in the age of COVID-19, there was never any doubt that they’d do whatever it takes.

“It’s a sacred time for us,” he said.

Several dozen people gathered Wednesday at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston for a Tenebrae Service, part of Holy Week celebrations. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

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