Christians seeking ‘normal’ as the resurrection of Jesus is celebrated on Easter Sunday
With Easter Sunday being a high point of the Christian year, area churches are expecting large crowds as many are return to in-person worship for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began more than a year ago.
Many area churches will offer multiple services with overflow space and social distancing throughout the Easter weekend.
Madison First Baptist Church, 2100 Main Street, will offer three services, one on Saturday night and two on Sunday morning said the Rev. Ronnie Falvey, the church’s senior pastor.
Falvey said he has seen an increase in attendance at his church over the last three or four Sundays as COVID-19 infection rates have declined and more and more people are getting vaccinated.
“If the weather is good, I think we will have a really nice crowd for the weekend,” Falvey said of the church’s planned Easter weekend services. “I think people are looking to get back. They want to get back. They have been online for a while and it is not the same. There is nothing like being in the room, so I anticipate that if the weather is nice we should have at least 2,100 people. Maybe a bit more.”
Some area churches, such as Madison First Baptist, Chapel of the Cross in Madison and Redeemer Church of Jackson, are limiting attendance capacities to allow for social distancing and have online reservation systems so people can pre-register to reserve seats.
Falvey said the church does not require attendees to wear masks.
“If they want to wear them they can but they don’t have to,” Falvey said. “We do practice social distancing in the sanctuary and we have those outlined and that sort of thing.”
As for First Baptist Madison’s Easter Services, Falvey said the church has made special arrangements.
“We are bringing in some special music guests and we put together what we think is going to be a really nice service. I am going to weave in the Gospel, the good news, and I’m also going to talk about hope,” Falvey said of his planned Easter message. “Give people a sense of hope to look forward to the future.”
DeAnne Hegi said she is “pumped” to attend Broadmoor Baptist’s Easter service with her husband, Joe. She said that last Sunday when they announced that they would be open the church “cheered” in response.
“I think everyone realized that Easter is such a big day in the life of a Christian and after not having it last year, to be open this year is just so exciting,” Hegi said.
Hegi lives in Madison and has attended the church since 1988. She raised her grown sons, John and Drew, in the church who will be attending services Sunday morning with their own families.
She said she is looking forward to seeing the sanctuary the fullest it has been in some time.
“We are hoping to just have tons of people,” Hegi said.
Executive Pastor of Ministry Neil Marsh at Broadmoor Baptist Church said people are encouraged to register on the church’s website.
“It is not required but it does help us get an idea of how many people are coming so we can make sure we have adequate seating and staff at each service,” Marsh said.
He said their services will start Saturday evening at 6 p.m. He said they will also host services Sunday at 7:30 a.m., 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. seating will be socially distanced and masks are not required but will be encouraged.
Marsh said there will baptisms at each service as well.
Ben Robertson, rector of Chapel of Cross in Madison said he anticipates a good turnout for Easter Sunday.
“There are some folks who are real excited about being back in church and wish we would have even less restrictions than we are observing but there are still a lot of folks who haven’t come out of their shell quite yet,”
Robertson said, “I don’t know that we will max out by any stretch of the imagination, but I think we will have good crowds.”
To accommodate the anticipated large turnout for Easter Sunday Robertson said the Chapel of the Cross is planning four services, one at 7:30 a.m. in the Chapel of the Cross, and two main services, one at 8:45 a.m. and another at 11 a.m. in the church’s new space and then a 5 p.m. service in the Chapel of the Cross.
Robertson said he expects to use the COVID-19 pandemic of the past year as an element in his Easter message.
“Someone said to me the other day, ‘Trauma that is not transformed is transmitted meaning that if we don’t process the pain and the death and the cross in our lives then we cannot be fully resurrected and made new,” Robertson said. “So, how in this time as the pandemic is ending and this time of celebration of the resurrection are we being transformed and how will we transform our own lives? How will we transform the pain we may have suffered during this year of pandemic into a renewed discipleship?”
Laura Wofford, a member of The First Presbyterian of Jackson, said Easter is one of her favorite days of the year and she is looking forward to worshipping in person.
“I am thankful our church will have the opportunity to worship together in person,” Wofford said. “The message of Easter is such a reflection of the spring season with the death and resurrection and that is why it is one of my favorites.”
The Rev. Dr. David T.A. Strain, the senior minister at The First Presbyterian Church, said the church has implemented “careful COVID protocols” and their Good Friday and Easter morning services will be no exception. The sanctuary will be split into two sections, one where masks are optional when seated and one where they are not. Seating will also be spaced to allow for social distancing.
Strain said they will hold a Friday evening Good Friday service at 6 p.m. and Sunday morning services at 8 a.m., 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. There will also be the regular 6 p.m. service.
“We are seeing a lot of people eager after a long year of isolation to be back in church,” Strain said. “There is a lot of joy and excitement and for some, this will be their first day back in a church since last year.”
At the Good Friday service, Strain plans to preach on the trials of the cross and suffering of Christ. His Sunday message will come from John’s recounting of Christ’s resurrection. He said that the isolation many have undergone to ensure their physical health has likely come at a cost to mental and spiritual health. He said that for many, returning to the social aspects of in-person services is “a big deal.”
Wofford said she has heard an “optimistic and hopeful” attitude from her church family and looks forward to hearing the message of the Gospel, which she noted is preached every week at First Pres.
“I just look forward to having the opportunity to let my mask down for a bit and see everyone’s smiling faces,” Wofford said. “It will be really sweet.”
Saint Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, 4000 W. Tidewater Lane in Madison, has been holding in-person services since last May, said Sallie Ann Inman, the church’s office manager.
Saint Francis will hold three Masses on Easter Sunday, she said, one at 8 a.m. in the church, one at 9 a.m. in the church’s family life center and another at 10:30 a.m. in the church.
“We are going to be keeping everyone safe,” Inman said. “We will have an overflow section in another building.”
First Baptist Church in Canton will hold services at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m.
Cook said that the focus of his sermon will be the hope instilled by the resurrection.
“I will be focusing on the hopefulness of Christ's resurrection,” Cook said. “Not just as a historical event but as it has results that carry over into our lives today and will continue to through the future.”
He said that the church has and will continue to take careful precautions, specifically in spacing and hygiene and are “grateful” that they have not been able to trace any serious spread of the virus to their various worship services and meetings.
Associate Pastor Brian Johnston said that St. Matthews United Methodist said that their church has sought to offer everyone the opportunity to worship during the pandemic.
“We have really been trying to reach everyone where they are and Easter is no different,” Johnston said.
Johnston said that they will have multiple members of their worship staff offering services at four different times in multiple parts of the church campus, including traditional services with a choir in the Sanctuary at 8 a.m., 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. This will include concurrent services in the parking lot, where motorists can pull up and tune in on their radio to hear a message delivered by one of their team in the parking lot, and a more contemporary set off worship services with a praise band in the church gymnasium.
“I hope my message will remind folks that God is infinite through time and that means that it is Easter Sunday whether there is a pandemic or not,” Johnston said.
Redeemer, (PCA) Church at 640 E. Northside Drive in Jackson has been seeing good attendance in recent months but that seating has been reduced to approximately 50% of the church’s 716 full capacity.
Gault said Redeemer will offer two services on Easter Sunday, one at 8 a.m. and one at 11 a.m.
“For Easter we are configuring things a little bit differently, maintaining socially distanced seating for most of the folks, but we have a number of people who are families who sit together each week so starting Easter we will also have a non-socially distanced section so we will be able to get up to about 325 (per service),” Gault said.
Galloway Methodist, 305 N. Congress St., Jackson, has been operating under COVID-19 restrictions since the pandemic began said the Rev. Cary Stockett, senior pastor.
“Although we see encouraging signs, I think there are still a whole lot more folks that need to get vaccinated here in Mississippi,” Stockett said.
Stockett said the church can accommodate about 800 people socially distance by 6 feet and everyone must wear a mask and have their temperatures screened upon entering and people can preregister to reserve seats on the church’s website.
“As for Easter we are trying to accommodate the maximum number of people that we can and still do that with some reasonable degree of safety so we are having two services instead of one,” Stockett said, one at 8:30 a.m. and another service at 11 a.m. “We have also established an overflow room where folks can sit.”
Christ United Methodist will hold three Easter Sunday worship services at 8 a.m., 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m.
Christ United Methodist Lead Pastor Dr. Bob Rambo said that they expect to operate at about 45 percent of their sanctuary's capacity with between 750 and 900 people at each of their three services. Their sanctuary can hold 2200 at full capacity and Rambo said that has given them room for social distancing. He said they will be able to accommodate between 750 and 900 worshippers per service.
Worshippers will be socially distanced and asked to wear a mask, though Rambo said they will have a section with more relaxed protocols for those who have been vaccinated.
On Easter Sunday, April 4, 2021, First Baptist Jackson will be hosting a community-wide Sunrise Service to celebrate the Easter holiday. This outdoor service will be at the Mississippi Agricultural Museum at 7:15 a.m. for all residents of the Jackson metropolitan area.
In addition, FBJ will be having their regular Easter services at their downtown campus at 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.
“All are welcome to attend and our COVID protocols will be followed while in the building,” Michael Bowen, FBJ Minister of Media and Communications.
Duncan Dent contributed to this report.