By Lindsay Peyton

The small town of Edom is preparing to celebrate Easter in a big way. Edom UMC is banding together with the nearby Baptist church and Fire Department to host a festival in the city park, inviting all families in the community to join in the fun.

Edom UMC’s Pastor Kaylea Van Wettering shares a desire with First Baptist’s Pastor Craig Lloyd to see Easter move more into the spotlight. “We both think we should make a bigger deal about Easter,” she said.

Van Wettering explained that Christmas almost always takes top billing on community calendars. “There’s always something to do for families, decorations everywhere and parties to attend,” she said. “But in our faith, Easter is really the most important thing.”

Van Wettering and Lloyd wanted to bring more attention to Easter and the resurrection. “Let’s go over the top for Easter,” Van Wettering said.

Last year was the first time the two churches joined together with the fire department for a city-wide festival. This year, the Easter celebrations return, beginning at 9 a.m. on Saturday, April 8 at Edom Park – complete with an egg hunt, crafts, games and activities for all ages.

“It’s going to be a great opportunity for families to spend time together outdoors, to put the emphasis on Easter and show why it matters,” Van Wettering said.

The pastor was appointed to Edom UMC, a church with about 60 members, in July 2021. Edom, which has a population of 375, is located about halfway between Athens and Tyler, Texas.

Not long after moving to town, Van Wettering got a visit from Pastor Lloyd. “The Baptist church is literally right up the street,” she said. “They’re a bigger church, with more young families and resources.”

Van Wettering had served in small town churches in the past – and said that joining forces with other denominations can be an effective way to reach more people with the Good News. “It’s always my hope to do something together,” she said. 

Lloyd connected her to First Baptist’s director of children’s ministry Sheila Walters – and they all began planning their first collaborative event, a fall festival in 2021. There were games and activities for children.

Instead of hosting the festival on church grounds, Lloyd suggested the city park. “It would be more welcoming to people who might not feel 100 percent comfortable about going to a church,” Van Wettering said.

She added that the park setting would also allow those without a church home to attend. “We have to think from the point of view of someone who might have had a bad experience at church or who may not go to church, who might find it to be intimidating,” she said.

After a successful event, which was more of a test drive for working together, Edom UMC and First Baptist began brainstorming a reprise, just in time for Easter.The fire department offered to host an Easter Egg hunt. First Baptist brought games and activities, and Edom UMC set up crafts.

“It ended up being really popular,” Van Wettering recalled. “It was so much fun seeing my church members volunteering and interacting with the kids, meeting a lot of people. I enjoyed getting away from our building and into the community.”

Children built butterflies out of pipe cleaners, beads and paper clips. Van Wettering explained to the young crafters that butterflies are a symbol of resurrection. “We were able to incorporate what Easter is all about – and the kids could take that home with them,” the pastor said.

Last November, Edom UMC and First Baptist joined again for their second fall festival, bigger and better than the previous one, Van Wettering said. “We had vendors of all kinds and lots of activities. It had grown a lot,” she added. 

Edom UMC does not usually have children in the pews currently. “We’ve had young families in the past, but the kids have aged out,” Van Wettering said.

In this phase, the church is still able to minister to the youth by working with other congregations, Van Wettering explained. “This was a way to still reach children in our community,” she said.

Sometimes, churches can be in competition – or perhaps envious of each other. “Instead, we can work together and support what we’re both doing,” Van Wettering said.

She explained that the mission statement at Edom UMC is “building a community of faith by following the footsteps of Jesus Christ.”

“When we say community of faith, we have to think beyond the walls of our church,” Van Wettering said. “The community is not just in our pews. And we’re not trying to be separate from town. We’re all together as a community.”

She hopes that the Easter event becomes a new tradition in Edom. She explained that, while the pandemic disrupted past celebrations, “it was also an opportunity to try something new and something different.”

“This is working really well – and I hope it continues,” she said.