Easter brings hope after a year of pandemic fatigue

By Lindsay Peyton

The Easter Bunny is hopping into the Texas Annual Conference this year, bringing a dose of much-needed joy and hope after a year of COVID-19 restrictions. Both Wesley Memorial UMC in Huntsville and Millican UMC missed their traditional Easter gatherings last year and now look forward to a returning to their usual – albeit slightly modified – celebrations.

“Last year was really tough,” Rev. Kimberly Carney said. “We were unfortunately unable to do anything for Easter, because everything was closed.”

She recalled that last year, Easter fell not long after the COVID-19 arrived in Texas. The church was still learning how to navigate operations during the pandemic.

Usually, Wesley Memorial UMC in Huntsville hosts its annual Easter celebration on Palm Sunday, since many congregants go elsewhere on Easter Sunday. Other than the change of date, the church sticks to tradition with its celebration, including breakfast with the bunny and an egg hunt.

Each task is divided by the congregation. The United Methodist Women, for example, take charge of decorations. The men’s group provides a volunteer to be the bunny and sets up a photo opportunity. Members stuff the eggs with candy and a few dollar coins. The youth group and young adults hide the eggs that morning.

The congregation gathers for a breakfast of donuts, kolaches and fruit, and the children enjoy a reading of the story of Easter, which is often, “Benjamin’s Box: The Story of the Resurrection Eggs.” The youth are also charged with waving palms before the Palm Sunday service begins.

Last year, the service moved to the parking lot and the children’s activities went on hold. Now, that has changed.

Easter back on campus

“We feel like we could do something on our campus in a safe way,” Carney said. “This year, we’re expecting a much smaller group of kids.”

Plans call for an outdoor sound system with music, pre-packaged breakfast items and plenty of picnic tables for families to enjoy time together in their own small groups. The Easter Bunny will walk around and visit with each group.

The Easter Egg Hunt will be outdoors and socially distanced. Children will also be at a distance when they go to wave the palms this year. They will simply move to the choir area where there will be more space.

“We’re trying to keep it more traditional and still make it safe at the same time,” Carney said. “Then next year, we’re hoping to be back to the full blown Palm Sunday.”

Easter at Millican UMC

Easter is also popular at Millican UMC, located in the town of Millican, between Navasota and Bryan. It’s also one of the most well-attended services each year.

“We’re a small church, but everyone comes for Easter and brings their children,” Rev. Heather Leyland said.

The congregation added an Easter Egg hunt for its youngest members when she was appointed about five years ago. The church collects baskets and plastic eggs – and collects donations of candy from parishioners.

“We get together as a group and fill the eggs,” Leyland said. “Then right after our Easter service at 9:30 a.m., the older youth hide the eggs on the church campus.”

Preparing for the event and gathering for the Easter Egg hunt are all about fellowship and spending time as a church family, she explained. Everyone looks forward to their time together to celebrate the Easter.

Last year, COVID-19 placed these traditions on hold. “Everything got canceled,” Leyland said.

Still, the church was hopeful that the Egg Hunt might continue this year, especially as schools reopened, and many members were vaccinated. “We’ve been watching everything,” Leyland said. “A month or two ago, we realized, we could do this again.”

This year’s hunt will look a little different, of course. Hand sanitizer will be on deck, and eggs will be placed further apart. Families will be encouraged to stay together as they search for their bounty.

Having an opportunity to celebrate Easter again as a church family feels exciting, Leyland said. “It’s just knowing there are things we can do – with wisdom,” she added. “We just have to think about how we can do things safely.”

Year of fatigue now hope

Recently, the pastor has been preaching about the last words of Jesus with series wrapping up on Palm Sunday.

On Easter, Leyland’s sermon will tie back to those words. “This is what Christ said as he died, and this is why He suffered on the cross,” she explained. “This is what we’ve been waiting for – the tomb being empty and His resurrection.”

Pastor Leyland sees several parallels to the Easter service and celebration, after an entire year of facing the challenges, tragedies and fatigue of COVID-19. “There is hope, as we open up the tomb, as you open the Easter eggs, that things will get better,” she said. “Things are going to get better.”

Pastor Carney said that last year, Lent seemed to not have an ending. Even this past Ash Wednesday was interrupted by the winter storm. But a celebration is not needed to remember the significance of the cross every day of the year, she added.

“As Christians, we are an Easter people every single Sunday,” Carney said. “And we know that while the tomb is empty, it is not an emptiness of nothingness. It’s an emptiness of hope.”

The pastor added that Holy Week is her favorite time of year, because she gets to share this story and help her congregation realize they are a part of it.

“The key player died for them,” she said. “They’re not peripheral. They’re part of the main story – and they can be part of that story every single day of their lives.”