116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
NORWAY - The congregation at St. Michael's Catholic Church in Norway is celebrating Easter Sunday as a community - a year after the pandemic sidelined most Easter celebrations and nearly eight months after the derecho damaged its three bells.
The Aug. 10, 2020, derecho tore the 130-year-old steeple off the historic building and damaged the bells that ring before services every Sunday.
The bells were shined up and repaired in Ohio, and are now back in their rightful place at St. Michael's, 512 Evergreen St. in Norway.
On the March 28 Palm Sunday, the bells were blessed by the Rev. Craig Steimel before being installed later that week. Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus Christ's entry into Jerusalem the week before his crucifixion and resurrection.
Steimel said the bells tie the congregation back to the original settlers of this area 130 years ago.
'It gives us a connection to them,” he said. 'The people who are still living here are relatives to the people who purchased (the bells) and saw them installed back then. It's a connection to their family histories and ties us back to the original days in the parish.”
The 'pageantry” of Holy Week was reduced because of the pandemic, but Steimel said it's better than last year when they could hold no in-person services.
Last year, Gov. Kim Reynolds limited group gatherings to no more than 10 people, including churches, to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
In April 2020, she lifted restrictions for places of worship, saying that spiritual and religious places were no longer prohibited from holding gatherings.
Church leaders across Eastern Iowa now are seeing more people return to in-person church in recent months after they get vaccinated.
Steimel said he has been vaccinated and is looking forward to gathering with everyone again soon.
'Jesus said where two or more are gathered, there I am,” Steimel said. 'We want to see each other, be with each other, serve each other and care for one another just like Jesus did.”
St. Pius X Catholic Church, 4949 Council St. NE in Cedar Rapids, held its first service in its sanctuary since the derecho on Palm Sunday.
The congregation previously had been gathering in the Parish Hall with social distancing and masks required.
Being able to hold services in the sanctuary again is 'perfectly timed” with Easter Sunday, said Michael Becker, St. Pius X pastoral associate.
Holy Week in 2020 was 'very difficult” with not being able to gather as a community for Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
'It was a somber experience,” Becker said - the opposite of what Easter is supposed to be.
While the congregation is continuing social distancing - marking off every other pew to remain empty - and requiring masks, Becker said there is 'joy and excitement” on parishioners' faces.
Many are returning to in-person church for the first time in over a year after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.
'It's a joyous occasion, but we want to be as cautious as we can, so we're not putting people's health at risk,” he said. 'Celebrating together, even at a limited capacity, we can still do that.”
On Easter 2020, First Assembly of God, 3233 Blairs Ferry Road NE in Cedar Rapids, held a drive-in service.
Attendees were required to stay in their cars with their windows up. The service was broadcast through a radio station.
The church also distributed 'Hope Kits,” filled with Easter eggs, a tradition it continued this year. The church distributed 700 kits with 2,400 Easter eggs.
Pastor Brian Pingel held five Easter services in a smaller part of First Assembly's building. This was to maintain social distancing while the sanctuary is undergoing construction after being damaged by the derecho. Pingel said the estimated cost of the damage is up to almost $6 million.
The church is back up to 60 percent attendance from before the beginning of the pandemic.
'At this point, we're still not fully back together,” Pingel said. 'There is hope, and I think that's the most encouraging. We know hope is alive ... and that's what Easter is all about.”
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