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Parishioners gather in person for Easter worship once again
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Parishioners gather in person for Easter worship once again

CROWN POINT — In-person Easter worship made its comeback Sunday at the First United Methodist Church.

“Welcome home,” the Rev. Mark Wilkins called out to about 70 members of his congregation at the 8 a.m. service, the first of three held Sunday.

Its members, wearing masks, waved hello, shook hands and exchanged hugs while the choir and the bell chorus rang out.

More than 12,000 Hoosiers have died from COVID-19 since March 2020. There are real names, faces and human stories behind that staggering number. This Sunday, The Times partners with 11 Indiana news agencies to share the stories of dozens of “Hoosiers We’ve Lost” in a special print section and online presentation. Watch for it Sunday.

Peggy Chesner, of Crown Point, said that after a year of pandemic-driven isolation, she found this Easter service particularly uplifting.

“Just being inside the church, seeing my fellow parishioners and listening to the hymns was so nice,” she said.

Wilkins, senior pastor of the church at 352 S. Main St. for 14 years, agreed.

“It's been a tough year. It seemed like all we heard was what we couldn’t do," Wilkins said. "It felt a little bit like being in the tomb.”

About two weeks before Easter 2020, Gov. Eric Holcomb declared a state of emergency.

Hoosiers had to stay home, refrain from travel and avoid large gatherings, religious ones included, to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Wilkins recalled, “Last year when I was talking to people in about 30 cars through a short-distance radio broadcast.

“It was cold. It was dark. There was a disconnect,” he said.

The idea government could close churches has been one of the most debated measures during the pandemic.

“Some were appalled we had to shut down and some think we should still be,” Wilkins said of his congregation of about 400.  “We ask everyone to have a prayerful determination of how safe they feel they can participate.”

The blessing behind these cursed times has been the necessity to livestream First Methodist’s services to the homes of its members.

“The pandemic has forced us to innovate in ways we would not otherwise have down, such as livestreaming," Wilkins said. “We have heavily invested in that technology. Its reformed everything we have done.”

Nevertheless, the relaxing of restrictions in recent weeks finally permitted the church to reopen last month. The sanctuary was near capacity Sunday morning.

Wilkins sent his parishioners home with the message, “Tomorrow isn’t scary. Its hopeful. Live it to the max.”

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