Easter creativity springs from pandemic

USMB churches find new ways to celebrate Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Easter Sunday

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The flower cross created by The Greenhouse Community Church, Saratoga Springs, Utah, is a beautiful reminder that through the resurrection, death is defeated and the cross becomes a symbol of God's beautiful love and power. Photo: Greenhouse Facebook

It didn’t matter if this was a pastor’s first year serving his congregation or his tenth, this was the year when every USMB church family, in one way or another, celebrated Easter in new ways due to the stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines put in place to curb coronavirus infections.

A review of USMB church websites and social media posts shows just how creative everyone was. Some churches developed their own resources, while others incorporated materials prepared by various ministries. For example, Stony Brook Church, Omaha, Nebraska, encouraged families to go online to participate in an “Easter Jam” experience offered by Orange, a Christian church curriculum company.

Our review also shows that USMB churches directed their parishioners to other USMB church websites and Facebook pages for various Holy Week services.

Hesston MB Church met via Zoom on Palm Sunday and created a virtual processional. Photo: Hesston MB Church

Social distancing practices have kept people from seeing and visiting with one another, so churches have hosted online gatherings to help people stay connected. Following their Palm Sunday service, folks at North Fresno (California) Church were invited to enjoy online fellowship in a Zoom room.

Palm Sunday

Multiple churches made palm branches available for pick-up at their church buildings or at designated homes so that children could wave palm branches during the worship service held on a variety of social media platforms. Some churches invited families to create their own palm branches and to display them in windows or on porches to create an appropriately socially distant procession.

It was a cold Palm Sunday when pastor Mike Andrews led the drive-in worship service. Photo: GFC Facebook

Churches found ways to gather on the church property while following social distancing guidelines. Cornerstone Community Church, Harvey, North Dakota, and Gospel Fellowship Church, Wolf Point, Montana, held drive-in services on Palm Sunday. The services were broadcast on the radio as churchgoers sat in their cars in church parking lots listening to the live radio broadcasts. For the Wolf  Point group, their parking lot was a fitting location since the site of their new church building was formerly the city’s drive-in movie theater.

Holy Week

First MB Church in Wichita, Kan., used the Holy Week online series produced by eyewitnessbible.org to provide daily opportunities for people to engage with the story of Jesus’ final days through a series of videos from the perspective of key characters who surrounded him. The church staff hosted daily Watch Parties on the FMBC Facebook page for those who wanted to watch live with the church family. Others chose to watch on their own.

Buhler (Kansas) MB Church offered “Journey to the Cross” during Holy Week. The events of the week were posted around the sidewalk in the front lawn of the church grounds. The Journey was designed to allow physical space between each location and participants were asked to honor their neighbor’s health by moving to the next location only when it was free. The Journey was open to the public April 6-12. Good Friday, April 10, Buhler MB held an online service and grocery bags and candy bags were given out that evening at the church carport.

Cornerstone Church in Topeka, Kansas, offered daily art activities for families during Holy Week. Photo: CC Facebook

The pastoral staff at Cornerstone Community Church in Topeka, Kansas, posted daily video devotions by lead pastor Ben Friesen and children’s activities that included a story and art project prepared by Susan Evans, family pastor.

The North Fresno congregation was encouraged to take on the Passion Week Photo Challenge. “Symbols and artwork can be meaningful ways for us to remember spiritual truths,” said the invitation. “If you have created spaces in your home or garden with objects that remind you of Christ’s resurrection, we would love to see them!” Participants were asked to send a photo of a painting, piece of writing, a photograph or something as simple as a vase of flowers that represents new life.

Pastor Coalt Robinson invited folks at Bethel Church, Yale, South Dakota, to participate in the nation-wide #JesusChangedMyLife campaign. The #JesusChangedMyLife website describes the project: People from churches all around the world are asked to create videos of how Jesus changed their lives and to post them on social media with the hashtag #JesusChangedMyLife and posting an invite to their church’s online worship service. Robinson shared his video story and invited members of the congregation to do the same, inviting listeners to attend Bethel’s Easter morning online worship service.

Several USMB congregations served their communities by providing candy and Easter baskets, including Grace Community Church, Sanger, California, that delivered Easter bags to children.

Neighborhood Church, Visalia, California, filled Easter baskets with treats for families receiving emergency housing through Family Services of Tulare County to help parents give their children a fun, memorable Easter. People were encouraged to use services like Instacart, Amazon or Target Drive Up to fill the baskets.

Many families decorated their windows for Easter, including this household in Salem, Oregon. Photo: Kingwood Bible Church

Maundy Thursday and Good Friday

Before the coronavirus stay-at-home orders were in place, few—if any—USMB pastors had held livestream communion services. But that changed this Easter as many congregations held online Maundy Thursday services that included communion.

Participants at Hillsboro (Kansas) MB Church were asked to provide their own crackers or bread and could pick up juice from the church office during a designated time period. Parishioners at Cross Timbers Church, Edmond, Okla., were invited to “gather your family around your phone or computer, bring some type of bread/cracker/chip and juice/water and let’s remember the Last Supper as a church family.”

Other churches that celebrated communion online include North Fresno (Calif.) Church; Kingwood Bible Church, Salem, Oregon; Zoar MB Church, Inman, Kansas; Stony Brook Church, Omaha, Nebraska; and Living Hope Church, Henderson, Nebraska.

Hillsboro, Kansas, is home to three USMB congregations: Hillsboro MB Church, Parkview MB Church and Ebenfeld MB Church. Pastoral staff members from the churches worked together to plan and lead a Good Friday livestream service that included Scripture reading and a reflection as well as music. At the beginning of the service, participants were invited to light a candle which was then extinguished at the close.

Greenhouse Community Church pastors are ready for their drive-thru Good Friday service. Photo: GCC Facebook

On Good Friday, Greenhouse Community Church, Saratoga Springs, Utah, hosted a drive-thru communion at the yoga studio where they meet. The church staff consulted with the city council to make sure they followed all sanitary and social distancing guidelines.

All the communion elements were in individual, factory-packaged containers. For a handful of families, this was their first time to take communion. Pastor Jason Quiring explained the significance of communion and personally prayed with every family before they took communion.

“This in itself is such a God thing,” writes Quiring in a post-Easter newsletter. “Who knows if these opportunities would have been there if we had our usual Good Friday service. Another reminder that God’s ways are higher than ours.”

Participants were also invited to place flowers on a cross, something Greenhouse does each Easter. As flowers are added to the “ugly” cross, “the cross becomes a beautiful reminder that through the resurrection death is defeated and it (the cross) becomes a symbol of God’s beautiful love and power,” says the newsletter.

Saturday night, the Greenhouse team drove to homes and hid Easter eggs in families’ yards for the next morning. The team left notes telling homeowners the eggs were hidden with “gloves and love” and not to be surprised when they found one empty egg as a reminder that Jesus is risen.

Easter morning the Greenhouse congregation had their worship gathering live over Zoom.

“We had incredible participation from our Greenhouse families, as well as numerous LDS friends and neighbors who could tune in as the LDS church didn’t have an Easter service to watch or attend. Praise Jesus for opening new doors during this unprecedented time,” Quiring says in the newsletter.

Resurrection Sunday

Pastors Fred and Esther Leonard led a livestream Easter sunrise service from the church parking lot for their congregation, Mountain View Community Church, Fresno, Calif. The MVCC staff also provided Easter pick-up packets Palm Sunday afternoon that included devotions and crafts for families. The sunrise service was followed later by a worship service for all three MVCC campuses, two in English and one in Spanish.

“Getting it done behind the scenes,” reads the caption for this Facebook post from Kingwood Bible Church in Salem, Oregon. “Crew ready to go for Easter Sunday! See you live on Facebook or the website at 9:30am!”

Corn (Oklahoma) MB Church held a drive-in Easter Sunday service. Folks were asked to drive to the church and park facing the main entrance but remain in their vehicles. The service was live, and speakers were set so folks could hear the service.

Pine Acres Church, Weatherford, Oklahoma, also held a contact-free Easter worship service in the church parking lot. The congregation celebrated communion within each car. Families were asked to provide their own communion supplies from what they already had: water, juice, crackers or cereal.

Renewal MB Church, a church plant in Rapid City, South Dakota, mailed 60 “Easter In a Box” boxes to the congregation. Families and individuals were to open their boxes Sunday morning during a livestream service that began with a video showing pastor Jon Fiester climbing into a large box that was loaded onto the bed of a pick-up and driven to the congregation’s meeting place at a local art center.

After climbing out of the box, Fiester retrieved his Easter box and entered the building, joining the three-member worship team already in place. Fiester explained that inside each box were five items related to the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. As he progressed through the story, Fiester moved to a different station set up in the meeting space. The stations included two tables on which items appropriate for that part of the story—the Last Supper, for example—were placed, a large cross and a tomb that when opened revealed a shining light.

The family friendly “Easter in a Box” service at Renewal MB Church included dramatic Scripture readings recorded in a local park. Photo: RMBC Facebook

At each station, Fiester told viewers which object to look for, and the video showed one household from the congregation at their home finding that object. Each segment also featured a video filmed in a park setting in which Amy Bella Sewell, of Word By Heart ministry, quoted from Matthew’s gospel, providing the biblical text for each portion of the story. Fiester offered historical context, further explanation and reflections for each portion, and the worship team provided a song chosen to reinforce the theme of Fiester’s message.

Standing in front of the empty tomb, Fiester closed the service by inviting people to follow Jesus and to text Fiester if they had made that decision and would like prayer or to talk with him. “The open tomb points to an open invitation to whoever wants to join in what Jesus is doing,” Fiester said.

What’s your congregation doing in response to COVID-19? Email associate editor Janae Rempel at newseditor@usmb.org with your church’s update. We’ll include as many updates as we can in the July/Aug 2020 issue of Christian Leader.

Connie Faber
Editor
Connie Faber joined the magazine staff in 1994 and assumed the duties of editor in 2004. She has won awards from the Evangelical Press Association for her writing and editing. Faber is the co-author of Family Matters: Discovering the Mennonite Brethren. She and her husband, David, have two daughters, one son, one daughter-in-law, one son-in-law and one grandson. They are members of Ebenfeld MB Church in Hillsboro, Kansas.

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