St. Martin-in-the-Fields holds Easter Sunday on the grill

For his Easter Sunday service, Saint-Martin-in-the-Fields the church will literally be in the field.

The Episcopal Church on St. Martins Lane in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia will hold outdoor services at the football field across the street, where the Springside Chestnut Hill Academy Blue Devils normally play.

Five hundred folding chairs will be set up on the Astroturf grill. Inside the end zone, a stage will be built where the Reverend Jarrett Kerbel will lead the Easter Sunday service from the shadow of the scoreboard.

“My opening gambit is going to be to point to the scoreboard and say, ‘Jesus: one. Death: zero,'” Kerbel said. He promises to limit himself to just one sports joke during the service.

This will be the largest gathering of the congregation in over a year. Kerbel extends the invitation beyond his church, to anyone of any denomination (or non-denomination) who wishes to celebrate Easter in an outward and physically distant way. Unlike its smaller indoor services earlier that morning, no registration is required for the outdoor service.

Music director Tyrone Whiting assembled a brass quintet for the service, so the music was loud enough to carry across the pitch. He also wanted to give work to local musicians whose performance gigs disappeared during the pandemic.

Reverend Jarrett Kerbel (right) listens to his three-person band as they bring Easter hymns to Chestnut Hill on April 12, 2020. (Emily Cohen for WHYY)

“One of the wonderful things that St. Martin is able to offer is not just the opportunities to perform, but the ability to do so safely,” Whiting said. “So brass players have these weird socks on the ends of their instruments to keep the droplets in, and everyone’s spaced out.”

Once again, Christian churches are faced with what they hoped would be a once-in-a-lifetime thing: another COVID Easter. A recent report from Pew Research Center shows that nationwide people are slightly more likely to attend church now than they were last summer, but only 39% of Christians surveyed plan to attend Easter services , compared to a normal of 62% before the pandemic. Members of historically black denominations, such as Baptists and Methodists, are even less likely to attend Easter service this year. Only 31% plan to attend.

Alicia R. Rucker