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Packed pews on Easter Sunday: Billings bucks national trend of religious dropoff

This Easter Sunday, pews in Billings churches were full
Easter Sunday Mass at St. Patrick Co-Cathedral
Posted at 5:21 PM, Mar 31, 2024

BILLINGS — Churches in Billings and beyond were packed this Sunday for Easter services.

Packed pews at the 10:30 Easter Sunday Mass at St. Patrick Co-Cathedral
Packed pews at the 10:30 Easter Sunday Mass at St. Patrick Co-Cathedral

Nationally, Americans are seemingly moving away from religion. According to the Pew Research Center, more than 40% of Americans aged 20-34 and 15% aged 50+ say they have no religious affiliation.

But that doesn't seem to be the case in Billings.

Entering St. Patrick Co-Cathedral for Easter Sunday Mass
Entering St. Patrick Co-Cathedral for Easter Sunday Mass

"Easter Sunday is just amazing,” Bishop Jeffrey Fleming of the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings said on Sunday. "(It's about) the resurrection of our Lord. But all the people too, just gathering together to celebrate the newness of life and the life Christ calls us to."

Bishop Jeff Fleming on Easter Sunday at St. Patrick Co-Cathedral
Bishop Jeff Fleming on Easter Sunday at St. Patrick Co-Cathedral

Easter Sunday is a day many Christians use to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Churches across America see an increase in attendance on two holidays:

"On Easter and Christmas, we (at St. Patrick Co-Cathedral) certainly do see more (attendees). It's wonderful," Fleming said. "It's such a blessing. It's so good to have people come whenever they can come. And they are always welcome."

Easter Sunday Mass at St. Patrick Co-Cathedral
Easter Sunday Mass at St. Patrick Co-Cathedral

There’s a term for these bi-annual attendees: ‘Creasters’.

"It's sort of a miracle that anybody shows up any Sunday. So I would say for me, it's about the welcome they receive on Christmas and Easter (being) the same we offer every Sunday," Pastor Ken Carrothers of the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd said on Thursday. "Whether you're here in worship in the sanctuary or joining us online. Whether this is your first time with us or you've been here your whole life... However you come, you're welcome. And God loves you, and God draws you to this place. So we're just excited to be a part of the journey."

Pastor Ken Carrothers at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd
Pastor Ken Carrothers at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd

Fleming said while there is an increase in attendance on Easter and Christmas, St. Patrick Co-Cathedral, located at 215 N 31st St., has already seen its numbers bounce back for regular services following the COVID-19 pandemic.

"After COVID, we're seeing our numbers get back to normal. And that's just such a blessing,” Fleming said. "There were lots of different changes (during the pandemic). And social distancing and all those, but we're back to normal again. So it's good."

Prayer candles at St. Patrick Co-Cathedral
Prayer candles at St. Patrick Co-Cathedral

This is something Fleming said he's grateful to witness.

"I'm seeing our church is growing, and that's such a wonderful blessing," said Fleming. "Not only here in Billings, but across eastern Montana and the state of Montana."

At Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, located at 1108 24th St. W, Carrothers said while some parishioners may come and go, it’s all a part of a journey.

Outside Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd
Outside Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd

"We're all on journeys and the journeys go all sorts of different directions," Carrothers said. "There are ways in which we are drawn into community (and) we're drawn out of community. The ways in which we experience God's grace, God's forgiveness, God's love. It comes to us in different spaces (and) different times. And who knows where we are on their journey?"

While both churches see an increase on Easter and Christmas, they’re grateful for all who join—whether they attend two days out of the year or every Sunday.

Reflection of stained glass
Reflection of stained glass

"We're here and we love to welcome you," Fleming said. "Let you get to know us and us to get to know you.”