Easter this year has a decidedly different feel due to COVID-19. As the pandemic rages on, churches have halted normal services, basically eliminating the need for floral-festooned altars. With services streaming online, congregation members worship remotely from their homes and florists reap mostly cancellations.

“We’ve been just pretty much answering phones to take cancellations,” said Adam Szetela, co-owner of Westgate Flower & Plant Shop, 841 S. Oak Park Ave. “Sales have been pretty much non-existent since the shelter-in-place order.”

Florists have taken a major virus-induced hit with the cancellations of weddings, funerals, school dances and spring religious services. 

Westgate has lost thousands of dollars “without question,” said Szetela.

Aware of the economic strain COVID-19 represents, First Baptist Church of Oak Park, 820 Ontario St., decided not to cancel its yearly Easter order in an act of both community and financial support.

“We wanted to keep our order because we wanted to support Westgate during this time,” said Pastor David John Hailey. “We kept the order and told our congregation that we would be willing to deliver flowers to their homes, their front doorstep.”

Members purchase the live potted plants — usually hyacinths, lilies and irises — and then the church will use them to decorate the altar. After services, they take the plants home with them.

Hailey believes the decision to support Westgate prompted more members than usual to purchase the Easter plants. 

“Some of our folks at the church decided they would buy a plant for someone else,” said Hailey. “There were a number that were bought for elderly people, for those who are sick and were not able to worship with us on a regular basis prior to the COVID crisis.”

First Baptist Church ordered 78 palm branches, 13 lily plants, four tulip plants, three hyacinth plants, one daffodil plant, two azalea plants, seven hydrangea plants and 200 individual perishable flowers — a combined total of $759.

“It’s great to be supported by the community,” said Szetela. 

He and Paul Peters, Westgate’s co-owner, were definitely “touched” that First Baptist honored their order.

“It’s really nice to have that outreach of support,” Szetela said. 

First Baptist office administrator Mary Lee Eneberg helped drop off the plants to members, making no physical contact with them and maintaining safe distance.

“Some people wanted to talk on the phone” while she was dropping off flowers at their homes, Eneberg said. “That might have been more valuable than the actual delivery.”

After a month of not seeing friends and staying inside, people have become starved for human connection, Eneberg believes.

“We don’t realize how much we need other people, sometimes just to be around other people,” she said.

Her husband Bob helped with the deliveries. According to Eneberg, one family put out a roll of toilet paper on their front step to say thanks.

Another purchased a lily for an elderly man who had not been able to attend church in several months. Standing on his balcony, the man and Eneberg waved to each other.

“That was really touching, that contact,” she said.

While the government has not listed it as such, she considers traveling to drop off the plants essential.

“We’re all supposed to stay at home, and we’ve been honoring that,” Eneberg said. “There is a little voice in the back of my head that says, ‘Well, you know, is this essential?’ The congregation is the body of Christ and that communication and that connection is so important.”

She also believes that tending to the plants will give people something worthwhile to do, while stuck inside, waiting for the virus to subside. 

“I’m hoping it will bring some joy to people in their homes to see the lily or the tulips.” 

For the pastor, the flowers symbolize a brighter future to come.

“We also see new life in the flowers, and it’ll serve as a reminder that in the midst of this crisis, there will be a day when we return to life as we have known it,” he said. “It will give us an opportunity to celebrate anew.”

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