By MARINA WATERS
Easter weekend is typically centered around pastel dresses, kids running through yards in search of hidden eggs and, often, the grandest church services of the year. But, like most activities during the current COVID-19 pandemic, Easter is going to look a little different this year.
“I’ve been in ministry for 40 years and I have never witnessed or experienced anything like this before,” Crosspoint Church Pastor Greg Doebler said. “This is brand new territory for anyone who is leading a church.”
Doebler has been hard at work to keep church services afloat through Crosspoint Church’s online campus, which offers online Sunday services. But maybe even more than taking its service online, Crosspoint Church, located on Main Street in Jonesborough, aims to maintain its community during a time many feel isolated.
“Our emphasis has been on keeping people connected,” Doebler said. “We’ve tried to make sure too that our connections are not just around the church but that they are around lifestyles. We’ve formed facebook groups for parents of elementary and preschool children and pre-teens and we’ve developed a group for recipe exchange since we knew people would be having to eat more at home.”
As for Easter service, Doebler said he has encouraged folks to dress as they would if they were coming to church and take a family selfie to share with the church community online. He also said he’s asked church members to share the link to the online service on their individual facebook pages as a way to invite people to “attend” their church as they normally would. He also said the church will offer music during the service and viewers are encouraged to take communion in their homes in celebration of Easter Sunday.
“We thought through a lot of different ways to try to make it special because it’s going to be different,” Doebler said. “But it doesn’t have to lose its significance. One of the things we tried to emphasize to our people is that even though we won’t be in our building, we are still the church. So we can still celebrate Easter, we just have to do it in different ways.”
Doebler said Crosspoint Church is also aiming to calm fears and offer familiarity in an uncertain time.
“Our goal has been to try to keep things as normal as possible because familiarity lowers people’s anxiety,” Doebler said. “It’s the uncertainty that creates anxiety in people. Everyone knows this is not normal, but as long as there’s an element of familiarity in what we’re doing, there’s confidence and there’s less anxiety.”
For Jackson Park Church of the Brethren, when the sun rises on Sunday morning, Pastor Jeremy Dykes will be ready to welcome Easter Sunday through an online service, but in the company of the mountains as he has done for past Easter sunrise services.
“We’ve built a house about eight miles below Jonesborough and where we are, the mountains are just incredible,” Dykes said. “So we’ve been in the process of setting up our cable and wifi. We would like to do something from here and come to folks in a fresh new way with a fresh background to share the gospel. That’s exciting to share with people.”
For Jackson Park, this time period has been filled with added online services, but it’s also been about turning to their faith in prayer and offering help to the community through services such as the food pantry.
Dykes said though times are scary at the moment, he hopes the passion people seem to have right now doesn’t die off as the virus does.
“The facebook feed and the drive-in churches, I think it’s great,” Dykes said. “It’s reaching people, but at the same time I always think back to the Sunday after 9/11. So many people were in the churches. So many people were at the altars. So many people were getting their lives straightened out. How quickly we go back to our routine of doing things.
“I pray that this is a great awakening. I pray it’s not just, ‘Hey, let’s get through this and then get back to our old ways,’ but “God, change us. Change our hearts.’”
At Sulphur Springs Baptist Church, the pews may be empty on Sundays like every other church right now, but that doesn’t mean folks aren’t live streaming and even pulling up in the parking lot for a church service through an FM radio station, drive-in movie style.
“We have an FM transmitter that reaches our parking lot only,” Sulphur Springs Baptist Church Pastor Jon Reed said. “So we are able to do drive-in church if anyone wants to come to the parking lot itself. It’s on 90.9 which is an empty channel in Sulphur Springs, so we can broadcast through that. We also have speakers set up outside in case people don’t want to leave their cars running. That has given us some new avenues.”
Sulphur Springs Baptist is also offering a podcast and a daily devotional to lift spirits and fill time. The church is also focusing on bringing the church out of its doors and to the community through providing food to families in need and checking in on one another.
Reed said it’s all made the church stronger in a sense.
“We had to do a business meeting the other day to seal our parking lot because it desperately needs to be re-striped and sealed and all that and we conducted that through text and phone and the response to that was overwhelmingly positive,” Reed said. “It was 100 percent ‘go ahead and move forward with it.’ I think in a lot of ways it’s galvanized us as a church and strengthened us as a church. I’m thankful for that.”
For every pastor, this is uncharted territory. But for Reed, it reminds him of another time of distress in our country, 9/11.
Reed was a pastor in Virginia at the time. Though he said there are some major differences between 9/11 and the COVID-19 health crisis, he also said people are still in search of that same sense of hope.
“After 9/11, everyone flocked to the church,” Reed said. “And we can’t do that now. I know people are hurting and struggling and are really curious about what the future holds, but they can’t flock to the building itself. Then, everybody did come to the church to try to find hope and community now, and now, because people can’t come, we are being forced to go out and be the church in the community. It’s forced us to kind of go out and be the church more.”
This Easter, Reed is encouraging everyone to make it as normal as possible and to look for hope this week, which, he said, can always be found in the Resurrection story.
“I would say just make sure you set aside some time to connect to the hope of Easter,” Reed said. “People need hope now more than ever.”
Reed said he hopes people keep finding ways to help others and focusing on what is most important, even after the health crisis is over.
“One of the great tragedies of 9/11 was a month after it was all over, churches went back to the way it was before,” Reed said. “Church attendance actually declined and I’m hoping that through this we kind of figure out what’s important. Those times of coming together as a church body are extremely important. Those times of checking on each other are extremely important. Helping those who are less fortunate and helping them is important too. I hope that we treasure those things.”
The goal at Sulphur Springs Baptist, he said, is also to offer a sense of peace in trying times with the hope that good can come of uncertain times.
“I hope if people log onto our services or even drive up, they leave with a sense of peace and a sense of hope. Right now, this doesn’t make sense. But 2,000 years ago when they walked to the tomb, it didn’t make sense either. One day it will make sense and I think God can make good come out of it. That would be my hope.”
To view or attend the above services go to www.cpoint.cc, sulphurspringsbaptist.org or Sulphur Springs Baptist Official Site group on facebook, or Jackson Park Worship Service at https://www.facebook.com/Jackson-Park-Church-of-The-Brethren-108094085899382/.
To share information about your church’s current services, send the Herald & Tribune an email at [email protected] with “Church services” in the subject line.