Easter, a time of hope and quiet joy. From the gentle bloom of daffodils to special church services, Easter symbolises renewal as spring unfolds.
But in the midst of Covid-19, celebrations are looking a little different this year. Empty pews, cancelled family get-togethers and cards left unsent – it would be easy to be gloomy given the circumstances.
The true spirit of Easter as a Christian festival lies in that of resurrection, to come together as a community.
Regardless of your religion, we could all benefit from the opportunity to start afresh and see things in a different light.
It would seem, though, that it will take more than a pandemic to stop the celebrations going ahead, even if they are behind closed doors. From a virtual church choir to streaming sermons and craft sessions via email, we have discovered remarkable resilience and the ability to adapt within north-east communities. We’ve also taken a look at the fascinating history of some classic traditions, and wish you all a very happy Easter.
Were Iain Duthie to still be in his former profession, he would potentially be working on the frontline in the face of Covid-19.
But although he stepped away from his career as a GP in 2004, Iain believes that he can still be of vital service. Indeed, his 1,000-strong congregation is relying on him to take them forward this Easter, by providing spiritual guidance in the difficult months ahead.
As lead pastor of King’s Community Church, which can be found on King Street in Aberdeen, Iain has adapted his role and helped co-ordinate a network of volunteers.
He would normally preside over four services on Easter Sunday, one of which is held at The Beach Ballroom.
Although the dance floor will remain empty this Easter, the congregation will still celebrate together.
“I was a GP for 20 years; I left in 2004,” said Iain.
“Being lead pastor isn’t quite so different in comparison.
“You are still looking after people’s welfare and wellbeing – it has changed from physical to spiritual.
“The congregation is city-wide and beyond, with people also coming from Fraserburgh and Peterhead.
“We’d normally hold four services on Easter Sunday; it’s a rare opportunity for everyone to get together.
“In the past few years we’ve all gathered together at The Beach Ballroom. The style is very informal, complete with a full band.
“The reality means everything has been curtailed.”
Iain is now helping to run an online church, enabling people to still enjoy the service during lockdown.
“We’ll still have two or three songs and time to pray,” he said.
“Hopefully people will text and email in with their prayers.
“We are also asking folk to film themselves and send the videos in.
“Then we can get a collage of what Easter means to everyone
“Of course it is a challenge to maintain that connection but it is so important for people to feel uplifted.
“Easter never changes, this celebration has been going on for 2,000 years.
“So, despite the circumstances going on around us, it is still the central celebration of Christian faith.
“That is not going to shift.
“It wouldn’t have been a question of us not doing something.
“We are adapting to our reality, but the element of community is central to us.”
For the Rev Peter Johnston, adapting to services online has been relatively straightforward.
His congregation at Ferryhill Parish Church in Aberdeen has enjoyed online services since 2016, and Mr Johnston took up his post almost eight years ago.
But while the virtual sermons were previously only aimed at those who were housebound or on holiday, the entire congregation could potentially now tune in.
Mr Johnston also faced a desperate scramble to get old tablets and phones out to the community.
“Prior to the lockdown, we asked families to hunt about for old devices,” he said.
“The younger generation has grown up with social media, it doesn’t faze them.
“But some of our older members don’t own a tablet for example, so we tried our best to get devices out to people in need.
“Unfortunately we didn’t have that much time, it is a huge effort to make sure we reach everyone.
“We used to hold our Easter service in Duthie Park at dawn, followed by breakfast. Then there would be services at the church.
“Things are looking quite different this year.
“Our service would normally be a celebration, with lots of singing and an Easter egg hunt.
“We had a lot of plans throughout Holy Week as well.”
Mr Johnston has turned to technology in the form of Zoom and YouTube, meaning people can still tune in virtually with mass video calls.
He has also trialled a virtual choir, in the hope that his congregation can still come together in song.
“We’ve had to go through a learning process, but we’re getting there,” said Mr Johnston. “We provided a backing track and decided who would do which part.
“Then people went away for an hour and recorded themselves singing. Then I put it all together.
“It’s a way for everyone to participate.
“Maybe we’re a step ahead with streaming, because we’ve been doing it since 2016.
“I’m still looking forward to the service, and I count myself very lucky to have my family around me.
“We’ve been getting great feedback via email, we’re still a community.
“My weekly message is one of hope.
“Of course we are facing huge challenges, but we won’t let it get us down.
“Easter is a story of new life and resurrection, that will never change.”