Demonstrating meaning of Easter to community during COVID-19 outbreak

By Grace Thornton
The Alabama Baptist

Andy Frazier said he’s in the same boat as a lot of other pastors — one way or another, Easter is going to look different for his church this year.

But even though it’s different, it’s “not the end of the world,” said Frazier, pastor of Grace Baptist Church, Sumiton. “We still celebrate the Resurrection every day.”

And as for Easter itself, they will either stream their service online, offer a drive-in worship experience in the church parking lot through an FM transmitter or celebrate Easter later, once it seems safe for his church to meet again.

“We’re in the same boat a lot of people are in — things are changing every day, so it’s hard to make concrete plans until we get a little closer,” Frazier said.

But another thing that’s changing every day is the way his church is adjusting its evangelistic focus.

Serving neighbors

Last year, Easter offered the chance for his church to get in to the community through an egg hunt and lunch on Palm Sunday. The event helped them get to know their neighbors and invite them back for the Easter service the following week.

But this year, the church is talking with its neighbors every day as it serves as a food distribution site for Walker County in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak. The Walker County Board of Education and two nonprofit organizations, the Walker Area Foundation and Raising Arrows, are collaborating to provide hot meals daily for children, the elderly and others in need, along with nonperishable items. They had been distributing those meals from another church in the area, but when a member there contracted coronavirus, the county called Grace Baptist.

“We got that call one day with about 15 minutes notice, and we said yes,” Frazier said. “We’ve been doing it ever since, serving about 125 hot meals and distributing 50 to 75 grocery bags every day. We plan to continue for at least the next week.”

According to Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center, changes like that are one of many ways the church can be the hands and feet of Jesus during the pandemic and show what the gospel looks like outside the church.

“This includes how we treat one another, how we respond to adversity and how we both show and share the love of Christ to the unchurched,” Stetzer wrote for Christianity Today. “God has given us an amazing opportunity to live out our faith in our communities.”

Practical ways to do that can include things like:

  • Providing child care for healthcare workers whose kids are out of school.
  • Preparing meals for children and families in need.
  • Walking a dog for elderly neighbors.
  • Offering to pick up food and supplies for those most at risk.
  • Regularly calling and texting those in your neighborhood to check in.
  • Offering words of hope for those dealing with anxiety and depression.
  • Supporting local businesses through ordering out as you are able.
  • When you have to go shopping, inquire with workers as to how they are and tell them you will be praying for their safety.

And as for the upcoming holiday, it “might be that this Easter the church will be more powerful scattered throughout our communities than gathered in our buildings,” Stetzer wrote.

James Merritt — pastor of Crosspointe Church in Duluth, Georgia, and the host of the broadcast ministry “Touching Lives” — wrote in a recent Facts & Trends article that churches should start inviting people now to join them for online services on Easter.

“People are starving for communication, and they want to be connected,” he wrote. “If you haven’t already, ramp up now to have the largest online Easter gathering your church has ever had (because you probably will).”

Sharing that invitation on social media is one way to do that. Calling your neighbors or leaving information on their doors is another way to let them know.

Also, be sure to check on how they are doing and ask how you might serve them.

Gospel outreach

“Engage them in a conversation by asking them if there’s anything they need, like a grocery store run,” he wrote, noting that people are more open to meeting their neighbors right now than they have been in a long time.

“There’s never been a better opportunity than now to reach out to your neighbors and impress upon your congregation to do the same,” Merritt wrote. “We must help them understand that we may not be able to go to church, but we are the Church.”

Frazier said that’s the message they’ve been trying to convey at Grace Baptist, and they’ve seen church members stepping up to help. One way that’s happening is by using creative ways to make sure people are connected.

“We’re having online options for services and small groups, but we’re also calling our members who are not tech savvy to make sure they’re included and involved,” Frazier said.
For instance, members who have tech capabilities have been conference calling their elderly friends and neighbors so they can listen in to services through their phone.

“We’re just doing the best we can to be the Church during this time,” Frazier said.

Easter, he said, will simply be an extension of that.