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On Long Island, 2021's day of renewal brings new hope for Easter celebrants

The traditional Sunrise Easter Service at Jones Beach

The traditional Sunrise Easter Service at Jones Beach was canceled last year, but the faithful on Sunday attended this year's version with the Rev. Lynn A. Collins, of the St. John The Evangelist Episcopal Church in Lynbrook. Credit: James Carbone

This story was reported by Rachelle Blidner, Vera Chinese, Lisa L. Colangelo and James Carbone. It was written by Blidner.

After a year of worshipping largely in isolation, Long Island Christians gathered in churches, on beaches and via livestream Sunday to finally celebrate Easter together — even if masked and separated by six feet or computer screens.

Religious leaders and congregants described the need for faith after a year of loss and were buoyant at the prospect of observing the holiday with others in person. A year ago, the coronavirus pandemic forced churches across Long Island to cancel traditional Easter services.

The Rev. Lynn A. Collins of St John The Evangelist Episcopal Church in Lynbrook said it is important to "keep up the love of God in these times of being isolated," even if that means Zoom calls for Easter 2021.

For Collins, Sunday meant joining dozens of others among the faithful for a sunrise Jones Beach Easter service that normally draws crowds in the hundreds.

"COVID couldn’t keep us away," Collins said in an interview. "Nothing will keep us from praising God this morning."

There was a semblance of normalcy in some services Sunday compared to last year’s, when local and state officials ordered in-person religious gatherings closed while the coronavirus pandemic’s first wave surged on Long Island and across New York.

"You all are a sight for sore eyes," the Rev. Michael Duffy told congregants at St Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre. Like so many others, the stately church had been closed to worshippers last year. Duffy, then at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Malverne, staged 2020's Eucharist procession from the back of a pickup truck and then said mass in an empty church for what he called "the most depressing Easter of my life."

"The fact you're here, thanks be to God, is a gift that we can be together," Duffy said, noting the deaths, illness and job losses. "We still gather today to profess our faith that the darkness doesn’t win."

With 36% of Long Islanders having at lease one vaccine, and gathering restrictions eased, signs of the ongoing pandemic remained evident Sunday. St. Agnes clergy wore masks to offer Communion, which worshippers took by lifting their face masks up momentarily to eat the wafer while walking back to their pews.

In Glen Cove, a community Easter service returned to its rightful home at Morgan Park after last year’s was held on a neighbor’s lawn without an in-person audience. As a precaution, attendees Sunday were asked to leave the singing up to five performers spaced several feet apart. Humming underneath masks was allowed.

Clergy at the park marked Easter — the day Christians believe Jesus Christ rose from the dead after his crucifixion two days before — by offering a message of hope for a return to normalcy soon.

"After all this hard year we’ve been though, after the loss we all endured, pain, so many things. Remember what he told you, remember that He died for you," said Brenda Lopez, of Iglesia Ciudad de Refugio, an Assemblies of God church in Glen Cove, as an interpreter translated her words into Spanish. "We’re going to get to the other side."

But other services stayed virtual this year.

The Rev. Earl Thorpe, of Church-in-the-Garden in Garden City, has said he won’t reopen until a majority of congregants are vaccinated. Congregant Miguel Chamaidan, of Uniondale, was the first confirmed case of COVID-19 on Long Island.

During a Zoom call Sunday morning, Thorpe encouraged worshippers to get vaccinated, even if they are hesitant.

"We want to build up herd immunity," Thorpe said in front of a virtual altar background. "I just want us to be mindful of that, that we need to do that in order to get back into church."

Worshippers said they felt particularly blessed for still having their health and the opportunity to be with relatives, especially after so many Long Islanders have lost their lives from COVID-19.

"Last Easter my mother was in the hospital, so we are very grateful to be here today, "said Meaghan Lennon, of Rockville Centre, as she stood with her mother, Denise Tiernan, and other family and friends outside St Agnes Cathedral on Sunday morning.

Crystin and Richard Quick, of Rockville Centre, brought their daughter Gianna, 2, to the cathedral's Easter Mass.

"We’re trying to get back to normal," said Richard Quick.

Added Crystin Quick: "It’s special to be able to go to church together as a family on Easter."

"It was great to be back in church," said Matthew O’Brien of Rockville Centre, as he left the cathedral with his wife, Melissa, three-year-old son Declan and four-year-old daughter Aurelia.

"It was beautiful," Melissa O’Brien said of the Easter service. "It helps bring that deeper meaning of Easter and helps bring the community together again."

Michelle Kowalski, of Seaford, said she was glad to go to the Jones Beach service with her sons, a two-decade tradition.

"How nice it is to be able to do something as a family and just thank Jesus for everything we have," Kowalski said, adding "we're healthy and grateful."

She was "a little surprised" at how many fewer people there were than in normal years, but also glad those who did attended were being cautious.

"It's nice to see people gathering at least to say a prayer for themselves and being grateful for the holiday," Kowalski said.

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