MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – As more Minnesotans get vaccinated and life begins to return to normal, more people are returning to church. Traditionally, Easter weekend is one of the most highly attended for churches both around the world and in Minnesota.

Last year churches were not allowed to hold any in-person services as COVID-19 cases spiked. A year later, some things will never be the same again.

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Calvary Golden Valley Church is gradually getting back to normal.

“It’s been a slow grow here at Calvary as people are getting more and more comfortable at coming out,” said Josh Hoaby, who is in charge of worship.

Though the church’s online audience has grown their congregation bigger than it ever was before, in-person attendance is still at about 40%.

“We definitely expect our biggest in-person attendance on Easter but I don’t think any church has any idea what that is going to look like,” said Hoaby.

They’ve kept things together with virtual music and Bible study sessions.

“It kind of feels like we’ve been in an extended Good Friday. There’s been a lot of loss, pain, mourning, a lot of people wondering where to turn but the good news of Easter is there is a resurrection,” said Pastor Zach Thompson.

On the east side of St. Paul, there’s hope for healing amidst a year of pain.

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“This has put me on an emotional rollercoaster. I described to someone once that I was physically tired, I was emotionally drained.” said Dr. Runney Patterson of New Hope Baptist Church.

Patterson has been focused on helping heal others and himself.

“I came down with COVID in July and I almost died myself,” he said.

He said he’s gotten his strength back and seen the church strengthen too with a wider online reach and an expanding food ministry. Even though it may be a while before they have a full house again, the church is going full steam ahead.

“We agreed even though the building may be shut down, the sanctuary must be shut down, the ministry should not be shut down,” Patterson said.

Churches are allowed to hold services at full capacity, and masks are still required.

Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul & Minneapolis also sent WCCO a statement about Easter this year saying:

“We have learned a great deal since last Holy Week and Catholics throughout the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis are delighted to be able to have options for safely gathering in-person this year to celebrate Easter. The joy is palpable. Moreover, I am proud that our parishes have creatively discovered new ways of reaching out to those at-risk members of our community who are unable to attend in-person. They remain an important part of our family. I am confident that the Easter message, which is always one of hope, will be particularly welcomed this year.”

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Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield