Sunday will not feel like Easter to millions of Americans who cannot gather in church or even gather as extended multi-generational families due to restrictions imposed by various governments in the effort to battle the coronavirus.
A survey by WalletHub found that 56 percent of Americans who went to church last Easter will go to church this year, if their church is open.
In many states, including hard-hit New York, in-person services have been shut down as an effort to restrict large gatherings, and services have shifted to various online formats.
Large family gatherings that often involved eating out will also go by the wayside. The survey found that 70 percent of respondents plan to stay at home to celebrate Easter, as opposed to 25 percent last year.
The confluence of one of Christianity’s major holidays with the pandemic may have led many to look deeper at the meaning of life, prompting increase sales of Bibles, for example. The survey found that millennials are nearly two times as likely as Baby Boomers to attach a religious significance to the coronavirus pandemic.
The survey also gauged the economic ramifications of a simpler Easter.
It found that 68 percent of respondents will have their Easter spending impacted by the virus. As part of social-distancing efforts, many stores have been closed and restaurants in many areas are restricted to offering takeout only. Almost half of those who celebrate Easter say they will skip buying special foods, candy or clothing.
With a partisan divide running through much of America these days, the survey found one about church attendance as well. Republicans surveyed were almost three times more likely than Democrats to say they planned to attend church, if their church is open.
Brad Fulton, an assistant professor at the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University, was not surprised by that finding.
“Among the very few congregations that are still holding in-person worship services, the large majority tend to be politically conservative,” he said.
“Their political orientation corresponds strongly with not wanting the government to interfere with their freedom to practice religion and they see continuing to hold in-person worship services, even during a pandemic, as a way to exert their constitutional right.”
Fulton also said that for many churches, there is a vast difference between choosing to suspend services and being forced by the government to do so.
“To avoid violating a person’s 1st Amendment right, which forbids the government from prohibiting the free exercise of religion, the government should not forbid congregations from having in-person worship services,” he said, noting that the question of whether the government has such power in an emergency would have to be decided by the courts.
“Most congregations do not want the government to interfere with their freedom to practice religion. However, many of these congregations are likely willing to suspend their worship services; they just do not want the government to order them to do so,” he said.
Easter, with its large congregations, can also be a major revenue source for churches. David Van Slyke of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University said the fiscal impact of a year without Easter will vary from church to church.
“With core members that are frequent attenders, a low impact. For less frequent attending members and those individuals that attend episodically, there will be a larger impact. However, this latter group gives at a much lower level in terms of commitment and dollar amount,” he said.
Van Slyke said some churches may see gains.
“Houses of worship with online giving portals could even see a rise in donations if their community engagement and mission stewardship roles and contributions are clearly communicated and have legitimacy,” he said.
The survey found that when asked what they were the most grateful for in this trying time, 40 percent of respondents mentioned their family, followed by their health, at 30 percent, and then their freedom, at 13 percent.
“This report reflects the results of a nationally representative online survey of over 400 respondents,” WalletHub noted of its survey, which was conducted between March 25 and March 31. “After we collected all responses, we normalized the data by age, gender and income so the sample would reflect U.S. demographics.”
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