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Mass Online, Virtual Seders, Pancakes Over Zoom Mark Kansas City's Passover And Easter Celebrations

Asbury United Methodist Church
Colorful, paper eggs decorate the windows of a home in Prairie Village. When Asbury United Methodist Church's Easter egg hunt was canceled earlier this month, families placed eggs in their windows for children to find

To observe their holidays this week, Christians and Jews throughout metro Kansas City have prepared high-tech ways to celebrate ancient traditions.

The pews will be empty on Easter Sunday when Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann celebrates mass at the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Kansas City, Kansas, the seat of the city's Roman Catholic Archdiocese. But the service will be livestreamed online for parishioners to watch from home.

"While this is not the way we would choose to commemorate this most holy of all weeks for us as Christians, I think it's going to be a memorable Holy Week, one that we'll never forget," Naumann says. "And hopefully there will be some unique graces that will come forth from it."

Credit Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann celebrates mass on Palm Sunday at the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Kansas City, Kansas.

At Village Shalom in Overland Park, preparations for Passover were well underway last week when Rabbi Mark Levin, retired founding Rabbi of Congregation Beth Torah, and Rabbi Jonathan Rudnick, the Jewish Community Chaplain at Jewish Family Services, met via Zoom to lead a virtual Seder sponsored by the J Heritage Center and the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City.

Levin, a Reform rabbi, and Rudnick, a Conservative rabbi, took turns reading from the Village Shalom Haggadah, a prayer book that guides worshippers through the ceremonial dinner known as the Seder, the retelling of the Jews’ exodus from slavery in Egypt.

Credit Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City
Rabbi Jonathan Rudnick, the Jewish Community Chaplain at Jewish Family Services, breaks the middle matzah into two pieces as Rabbi Mark Levin, retired founding Rabbi of Congregation Beth Torah, took a turn reading from the Village Shalom Haggadah during a virtual Passover Seder.

The "built-in paradox" of the COVID-19 pandemic, Rudnick said, is that "it causes a huge challenge to figure out how to communicate and be present in a way, and to figure out how to be there safely so that people aren't feeling so alone when they most need to feel the connection."

"I think this isolation will long into the future be what characterizes this Passover," Rudnick added.

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM
Jo Hickey, the food pantry director for Jewish Family Services of Greater Kansas City, loads boxes of kosher supplies for Passover meals for home-bound seniors at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City.


"That part of the Seder when we say, everyone who is hungry can come and eat, which is the eating of the food but also eating spiritually, which is connecting that people can get what they need from connecting with other people — that is what we are all trying to give and trying to get."

Rudnick visits people in elder care facilities and hospitals regularly. He says this is a population that is isolated, especially now with strict lockdown rules. He created a video for residents of Village Shalom's Memory Support Building and for members of The J Heritage Center to celebrate the Seder.


Naumann, meanwhile, has been live-streaming daily masses on Facebook from the chapel at his residence since large gatherings were banned last month. He's worked out a few technical difficulties along the way, but there is nothing normal about celebrating mass alone.

"It's very sad to be celebrating in an empty chapel or an empty cathedral and it's not the way the eucharist is supposed to be celebrated," says Naumann. "But it's been heartwarming to read some of the comments of people that are participating."

Credit Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas
A screenshot from Archbishop Naumann's Facebook page shows comments from parishioners.

He says the church is trying to give parishioners the same support as always, but in ways that are safe for everyone.

"We're trying to offer the sacrament of reconciliation of confession, but in unusual ways," Naumann says with a laugh. "I never thought as the Bishop I would cancelling masses and promoting drive-through confessions but that's what the circumstance calls for."

What's been most difficult, he says, it that it's hard for his priests to visit people who are sick, particularly those who may be near death. But Naumann tries to take the long view.

"The church has been through these times in its 2,000-year history. We try to communicate that these are the ordinary ways that the Lord works with us through the sacraments but when that's not possible the Lord's still present. He's still forgiving his people and comforting his people but in different ways."

Pastor Phil Vickers, of First Lutheran Church of Mission Hills, has also been ramping up the church's online presence with pre-recorded services. In addition to their taped events, he's added a little spontaneity on Easter Sunday.

"We have a tradition on Easter to have a big pancake breakfast on Easter Sunday and so this Sunday we're having a virtual pancake breakfast," Vickers says. "We're inviting everyone to make their own pancakes and just turn on Zoom and be together as best as possible."

Pastor Phil Vickers, of First Lutheran Church of Mission Hills, has been ramping up online presence with pre-recorded services on YouTube.

Vickers says moving everything online was an adjustment at first but they've settled into a rhythm now.

"The important thing for him is to let people know the church is there for them. "Our churches are still here and doing the work of the church," says Vickers. "Church is not closed. Church is not canceled. We are just doing it in a very, very different way.

An Easter Egg hunt with hundreds of eggs at nearby Bennett Park is the annual highlight of the holiday celebrations for children at Asbury United Methodist Church in Prairie Village, Kan.

When it became clear that this year's event would need to be canceled, family ministries director Heather Jackson came up with a unique alternative: Members of the youth group are decorating colorful paper Easter eggs that they'll display in their windows for children to discover.


"I just thought ... 'Hey let’s color or make some Easter eggs out of paper or cardboard and we’ll get the word out so that kids when they’re out on walks or families want to go for a drive to try to find them it would give them something to do.'"

Jackson says all of the cancellations have hit her youth members particularly hard because they are normally so social. But she says they can always celebrate later.

"What I tell our families because obviously, we're not going to meet for Easter," says Jackson. "So one of the things we talk about is we'll still celebrate resurrection at some point and it will be a resurrection of being able to meet together again."

Julie Denesha is a freelance photographer and reporter for KCUR. Follow her on Twitter @juliedenesha.

Julie Denesha is the arts reporter for KCUR. Contact her at julie@kcur.org.
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