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Faith & Family: Churches celebrate Easter uniquely

NATCHEZ — With churches in the Miss-Lou closed due to COVID-19, pastors are finding ways to still meet with their congregations on Easter Sunday.

Rev. Troy Thomas, pastor of Bethel Church in Vidalia, said he is having a parking lot Easter service at 11 a.m. on Sunday at El Ranchero restaurant, 1619 Carter St., Vidalia.

“Some people are very skittish of coming into the building with the outbreak of the coronavirus,” Thomas said. “If they stay in their car, then they have some distancing between them and the other people, so they don’t have to be so fearful. That’s one reason that we did it like that. Our members shouldn’t have any fear coming in contact with the virus with a service like we’re providing.”

For the service, Thomas said he is planning to cut his sermon in half, having his assistant share in preaching, have the children’s choir sing and have the gospel dancers dance.

If there is rain in the forecast, Thomas said he’s going to move the service to Bethel Church’s parking lot.

“We’re willing to sacrifice our comfort and minister to people wherever they are in spite of their fears,” Thomas said. “If people have fear of coming to the building, then let’s make the service more powerful.”

Churches creating videos

First Baptist Church and Jefferson Street United Methodist Church each have created videos for their congregation for Easter services.

Matt Martin, associate pastor of discipleship and young adults at First Baptist Church in Natchez, said he has been providing the congregation with pre-recorded church services from last year.

“Since it’s Easter, we chose to do something that was pre-recorded a year ago just so people could see each other in the congregation,” Martin said. “It’s definitely different and it’s certainly not an ideal circumstance. We all miss being with each other especially on the most important day of the year being Easter.”

The Rev. Bill Barksdale, pastor of Jefferson Street United Methodist Church, will make a 30-minute video for his congregation to enjoy.

“I’m pretty excited about it, because all of the components have come together nicely,” Barksdale said. “We will have our new organist, Kathy Rogillio playing traditional Easter hymns and I’ve layered in the lyrics with one of our staff members singing.”

The video for Jefferson Street United Methodist Church will be available for church members via email and Vimeo.

“Of course I’m disappointed at not being able to offer an in-person Easter service, our youth had planned to do their traditional dramatic presentation of uncovering the cross and altar from Maundy Thursday to the joyous colors of Easter morning,” Barksdale said. “The most important thing right now is public health and safety, and though a photo outside the church seemed innocent enough, it might tempt folks to go other places.”

Churches using Facebook Live

St. Mary Basilica, Zion Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church and Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church all are continuing with their Facebook Live streams to reach their congregations.

The Rev. Scott Thomas said he doesn’t like using Facebook Live without his congregation inside St. Mary Basilica.

“I miss everybody,” Thomas said. “The holy Mass is a beautiful thing but it’s getting old and tiring doing it with empty pews. Jesus is still in it and the Mass is the most important thing that we do.”

The Rev. Birdon Mitchell Jr., pastor of Zion Chapel AME Church, said that while some pastors do not like Facebook Live, he has seen an increase of viewers for his church services.

“It’s going to be the best that we can do since we can’t assemble together in the church, and I think our people understand what’s happening,” Mitchell said.

Rev. Melvin White, pastor of Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church, uses Facebook Live for his services and a prayer line on Wednesday nights to keep in touch with his congregation.

“It’s going to be really hard not being able to see my congregation in person on Sunday,” White said. “By offering Facebook Live and the prayer line, we’re letting them know that we do miss them, and we’re looking forward to seeing them in person once again.”