Easter services mean full churches, at least this week

Published 12:17 am Sunday, April 4, 2010

NATCHEZ — Dozens of Miss-Lou residents will do something today they may not do again until next year.

And it has nothing to do with chocolate bunnies and pastel eggs.

This day, like no other Sunday of the year, draws crowds to local churches. Pews will pack, families will pray together and praises will be sung.

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But next week? Well, just ask the church attendance keepers about that.

Easter Sunday, whether due to tradition, obligation, guilt or true faith, sends people to church who don’t regularly attend, area ministers confirm.

“We use Easter Sunday as an opportunity to honor the Lord, and we recognize it as being the highest and holiest day on the Christian calendar,” Jefferson Street Methodist Church pastor the Rev. Ed Temple said.

But Temple knows the emotions about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that drive some people into his pews today may not last until next Sunday. But that doesn’t mean Temple, and other area pastors, won’t try to buck the trend.

“We are delighted to see people we might not see quite as frequently and hope and pray that they will be so moved and inspired by the message of Easter that they attend services more frequently throughout the year.”

Laterrica Henyard, 15, will be in church today, but her heart won’t be in it, she said.

Henyard, who attends Rose Hill Missionary Baptist Church, equates Easter with excitement, but not of the religious kind.

On Saturday, Henyard’s family hosted a block party, and today, the family will enjoy an Easter feast after attending church.

“I’m not really that into it,” Henyard said of Easter services. “Easter means excitement and fun. That’s about it.”

Others will skip church altogether.

Jeanette Britt and her 3-year-old daughter Anna Grace will spend the morning enjoying the outdoors with family.

“We’re going to dye a bunch of Easter eggs, have an Easter egg hunt at the house and grill out,” Jeanette said. “And we’re going to have an Easter bunny.”

“A big, big, big Easter bunny!” Anna Grace interjected.

“Easter to me is about being with family and getting the family together … having a good time,” Jeanette said. “It’s the start of springtime, and everyone’s happy and getting ready for the summertime.”

But for many others, their spot in the pew is all but reserved today just like it is every other Sunday.

Easter is special for Trey Mitchell, 17, but his morning routine is not all that different from a regular Sunday.

Mitchell said he likes attending church, and not just because his dad, the Rev. Birdon Mitchell Jr., is the pastor of the church he attends, Zion Chapel African-American Methodist Episcopal Church.

“I’m not like most teenagers, who are coming because their parents make them,” he said. “I like church, my parents don’t have to make me come anymore.”

He said going to church, for him, was the right thing to do because it is his way of achieving his connection to God.

“My connection makes the decisions I have to make easier,” Mitchell said. “Instead of getting in people’s faces about problems, I just pray about it and make it better.”

Local resident Joyce Wesley agreed, saying her dedication to the Lord keeps her coming back, week after week, day after day, whether she feels good or bad.

“The main thing is because I want to praise God,” Wesley said. “Church gives us a chance to thank and love the Lord. He did not have to die for us, but He did.”

And that’s the message pastors hope to convey today, Temple said.

Church attendance is a vital part of practicing Christianity that can’t be achieved by sporadic attendance, he said.

“Of course we recognize each Sunday is a little Easter in that we are constantly aware of the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” Temple said. “Dating from New Testament times forward, Christians have been encouraged to actively participate in the community of Christ, and that means showing support for the body of Christ that is the church.

“When you attend on a Sunday you are making a public declaration to the world your allegiance to Jesus Christ.”

Temple said there is no secret method for bringing people back to church after an Easter service. He said it is through ministry, prayer and the work of the Holy Spirit that people change their church attendance record.

And he said if any message could implore that change it is the Easter message.

“We want the message to be as uplifting and joyous as it can possibly be, because this is the most joyous time for Christians,” he said. “We remember the victory our Savior had over death.”