Church members surprise pastor with creative encouragement on Easter

Church members surprise pastor with creative encouragement on Easter

By Sarah Jacoway Chastain
Correspondent, The Alabama Baptist

When Marshall Henderson, pastor of First Baptist Church, Fort Payne, walked into the sanctuary prior to the Easter service, it was packed. And almost all church members were already in “their” pews.

While this is not an unusual sight in a typical Baptist church on Easter or for that matter in any church on Easter, it was unusual for Easter 2020.

Henderson had preached to an empty sanctuary the prior three Sundays. Even the pianist, soloists and music minister had to leave after their parts were over.

So how did the congregation of First, Fort Payne, find a way for Henderson to see each of the individuals in the pews as he preached?

Church member Cindy Lowe noted how empty the church looked while watching online. And the pastor looked so lonely, she added.

‘Packing the pews’

So she and Myla Walworth decided they would pack the pews with all ages — and with an idea sparked by a Facebook post from another church, they got to work “secretly,” Walworth said. “Just the two of us.”

First stop was a local business that took the most recent church directory and printed individual 8×10 photos of the roughly 185 families in the directory.

“They were excited to be a part of our project and worked hard and got it done extremely fast,” Walworth said.

Then the real fun began — figuring out how to put those pictures in the pews.

They tried taping them, but that didn’t work well, Lowe said, so she and Walworth left to shop for more supplies. When they returned Walworth’s husband, Roger, who happens to be the church music minister, was playing the trumpet in the sanctuary.

“We were busted,” Lowe said. “We told him our plan and he got involved.”

After a few different attempts, Roger Walworth decided on carpenter shims and they worked. The shims fit perfectly in the small groove at the top of the pew and wouldn’t cause any damage.

The crew was ready to place all the people

Myla Walworth sings in the choir and knows where everyone she can see from the choir loft sits so she took on the main sanctuary seating.

Lowe and her husband, Larry, sit in the balcony so she tackled the balcony.

The photo version of the church members even ended up being socially distanced since they were placed so they could “see” around each other.

After all the members were in their pews, Lowe and the Walworths decided to place the staff including the pianist and organist in their proper places on the stage.

They also included the former pianist who has an honorary place at the piano, and the support staff was placed on the front row. Pastor emeritus Pat McFadden also was “seated” on the front row in support, not his usual seat but symbolic for the purpose.

Myla Walworth said it took about six hours to get everybody in his or her proper place.

It was showtime — and the big reveal

As Henderson came into the sanctuary to record part of the Sunday service, he had no idea what he was going to see.

Myla Walworth said she wished she had a video of his face. “He couldn’t stop laughing. He just walked up and down the aisle looking at all the pictures.” Lowe added that he kept saying, “This is great.”

“It completely caught me off guard,” Henderson admitted. “It was such a friendly thing to do.”

Lowe noted, “We all laughed and just soaked up the happiness that it seemed to give us all.”

‘What makes the church’

“Our prayers were that everyone would be blessed by being able to ‘go to church’ since we all miss it so much,” she said. “We certainly didn’t think about it going any further than the church so when others found out and began to spread the word, it seemed to have blessed even more than we ever thought. But isn’t that what God does?”

Reflecting on recording the services, Henderson said, “What we are doing now is no substitute for corporate worship. Hopefully we are encouraging our people and … making them feel connected in a time of social distancing.”

Myla Walworth added, “Even though our church building is empty, we feel like this picture-perfect pew project of love is symbolic that we the people are what makes the church, not the building. We also want to encourage our pastor and staff as they tape our church services. … They can look out at the congregation and see all of us.”