December 1, 2021

Virtual services, real faith

Churches find a way to celebrate Easter amid virus

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

The Rev. Paul Alciati prepares Friday for Easter Mass on Sunday at St. Margaret’s Church in Homer. Churches in the greater Cortland area are preparing virtual services so congregants don’t have to pack the pews and risk their health during the coronavirus pandemic.

For the Rev. Paul Alciati, preaching to a congregation not physically at St. Margaret’s Church in Homer has taken some getting used to.

“It’s very strange,” he said. “I’ve been a priest for 42 years and this has never happened before.” Alciati, like other church leaders in Cortland County and across the country has relied on digital services during the coronavirus pandemic that has prevented people from gathering in public spaces.

With Easter a day away, Alciati and other church leaders are preparing virtual services to celebrate the holiest day of the Christian year.

Alciati said he will lead an Easter service at 10 a.m. with the Revs. Joe Zareski and Nathan Brooks, both of St. Mary’s Church in Cortland. The service will be livestreamed on St. Mary’s Facebook page.

While Alciati said he’ll miss the joy that is felt by services with people in the congregation, the power of faith will connect everyone.

“We know that we are still connected spiritually by a deep bond of prayer and that we’ll gather again at some point so we know we have a lot of hope,” he said. For some church leaders, the cancelation of services in person has also been beneficial to their congregation.

“We enjoy it quite a bit, actually,” said the Rev. Cory Eckstrom of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Cortland.

The church, which has been using Facebook Live and FaceTime to livestream services, has a mostly older, smaller congregation and streaming services has helped congregants who couldn’t make it church in person.

Like at St. Mary’s, Eckstrom will lead his Easter service at 10 a.m. on the church’s Facebook page.

Another service will be offered in American Sign Language by Ecsktrom, said Matt Eckstrom, Cory Eckstrom’s son.

Cory Eckstrom said that as a Christian, Easter provides hope for the world and that in the time of the coronavirus when people are worried for their health and safety, it serves as a time to remember Jesus’ good deeds, he said.

“That gives us a lot of hope to people,” he said.

He also recommended that people celebrate the holiday from the safety of their homes.

“We can still be faithful to God if we stay in our homes and read our Bibles and practice our faith,” he said.

The Rev. David Johnson of the United Presbyterian Church said that as part of his church’s service, he’ll say a special prayer to recognize those who have been affected by COVID-19.

“We’ll be recognizing we’re in a very different time and in a need to help each other and be safe,” he said.

A prerecorded service will be available for viewing the church’s YouTube channel, he said.

Johnson said it will feel a little different without a congregation or a live choir, but he is awaiting when services will again have people in the pews.

“We’ll be looking back at our past services and looking forward to when we can return and celebrate this special day in the Christian year,” he said.

Easter church services

St. Paul Lutheran: Online service at 10:30 a.m. on Pastor Cory Eckstrom’s Facebook page

Grace Christian Fellowship: An online service will be posted at 9:30 a.m. to the church’s website and Facebook page

St. Margaret’s: Online service will be co-held with St. Mary’s and St. Anthony’s churches The service will be shown on St. Mary’s Facebook page. St. Margaret’s will be open from 8 a.m. to noon for personal prayer.

First Presbyterian Church of Marathon: Information regarding the service will be communicated through email.

St. Anthony’s: Online service will be co-held with St. Mary’s and St. Margaret’s churches. The service will be shown on St. Mary’s Facebook page. St. Anthony’s will be open for personal prayer from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Homer First United Methodist Church: Online service will be livestreamed on the church’s Facebook page, YouTube channel or website.

Unitarian Universalist Church of Cortland: Online service will be live-streamed via Zoom at 10 a.m. Visit the church’s website or Facebook page for the link and meeting ID.

First Church of Christ, Scientist-Cortland: A Bible lesson will be discussed at 10:30 a.m. via conference call. Call 515-606-5187 and use access code 327689# to listen in.

Cortland First United Methodist Church: Online service will be 10 a.m. Visit the church’s website at for details.

Homer Congregational Church: Online service will be 10:30 a.m. Visit the church’s website at for details.