Maui churches mark first Easter without COVID-19 restrictions
Sunday was the first Easter that Maui churches met without COVID-19 restrictions in place, and attendance was higher than last year.
Pastor Shaun Waite, who leads Upcountry’s Waipuna Chapel, acknowledged the pandemic’s evolution during the start of his Easter Sunday sermon.
“You don’t have to wear a mask, but you are welcome to wear one if you want to,” he told the congregation. “It’s so good to see all your smiling faces.”
Churchgoer Marla Mervis-Hartmann of Kula said that Easter Sunday was a busy, vibrant one at Waipuna.
“It’s really nice that you can go inside the chapel without a mask,” she said. “I haven’t been inside for a while because of the masks; I’m always sitting outside.”
The pandemic swept the nation and the islands in March 2020. By the end of that month, nonessential businesses were shuttered and lockdowns kept people at home.
Several Maui churches, such as Waipuna Chapel in Kula and Hope Chapel in Kīhei, pivoted to online services or bolstered existing streaming content to keep people connected.
“We did have some video production, but we had to really hone it in a lot better,” he said.
Even after gathering was allowed, “a lot of people were choosing to stay home and watch online,” he said.
Waipuna invested in new video cameras, and later in infrastructure for outdoor-streaming services, such as an 80-by-80-inch screen that sits in the campus amphitheater.
Waite said that many of the pandemic changes, such as the outdoor features, will remain.
“All the outdoor seating, people love it,” he said. “We are fortunate to live in Hawaiʻi, and we have great weather most of the time. It’s especially great for the kids, because if your kids don’t want to go to the Sunday school and such, they can still run around and the parents can be there without disturbing.”
During the pandemic, Waipuna followed county rules, including distancing measures, limiting capacity, indoor masking and other mandates.
As with any group of people, perspectives on the pandemic were diverse, and many people held strong opinions. Waite said every leader during the pandemic faced challenges.
“We’ve had some people who wouldn’t want to come to church because you had to wear a mask, and people who wouldn’t come to church because you didn’t wear masks (outdoors),” he said. “You couldn’t please everyone. We just tried to hold the line in the middle and be balanced and try to do the best we could to make people feel comfortable.”
Looking back, Waite said the congregation had a lot of grace and kindness in navigating an unknown time.
“All in all, it wasn’t as bad as it probably could have been,” he said. “People were really gracious with us here.”
This year, more churches nationwide are hosting Easter services with few COVID-19 restrictions, which is in line with broader societal trends, according to The Associated Press.
Some pockets of the US still carry restrictions at certain congregations, while others have not implemented mandates at all during the pandemic.
As people recover from pandemic stressors, Waite said that community is more important than ever.
“It’s no coincidence that when we want to punish people, we put them in solitary confinements, right? Isolation is the worst human punishment — people are created for community. And so community is absolutely essential, not just community of faith, but just in general,” he said.