Churches Uniquely Celebrating the Greatest Story Ever Told

Date Posted: 4/10/2014

Congregations across the conference are hosting, acting, singing, planning, planting and inviting in new ways that will enrich the faith journey of attendees of all ages this Easter. Read about several Lenten traditions and new activities, and learn new ways families or teachers can demonstrate the meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection in a memorable way.
There is so much more to the Easter season than baskets and bunnies. Churches across Texas are finding ways to help individuals and families prepare to revere the death and resurrection of Christ in a number of special ways that involve hearing, feeling, seeing and
even tasting.
Ash Wednesday took a slightly different twist this year at Sunset UMC, Pasadena. “We had an Ash Wednesday service at 10:30 am for those who wanted to come together at the church,” says Rev. Keith Swatzel, 

“however, realizing that most would not be able to make it at that time, we distributed prepackaged ash packets after blessing them on the previous Sunday, and about a fifth of our membership took one home to share within their family.” 

Jewel Morgan, who helped assemble the packets, shares, “The leader of our Caring Ministry took some of the packets to our shut-ins.” Adds Jewel, “I will say from personal experience that assembling the packets made me think more deeply about the meaning of Ash Wednesday.”  
This Lenten season, Sweeny First UMC has been doing a church-wide walking program they call the Walk to Jerusalem. Members received pedometers and devotional books with a chart to track their steps/miles.  Rev. Nancy Cobbs is excited to see how many steps/miles will be walked during the season of Lent until Easter morning. “The conference-wide clergy walking program is having an effect into the congregation as our Lenten season has been one focused on walking,” she says. “This emphasis has been a good motivator for many in our church. We also have the Labyrinth at the Family Life Center for the first time to walk. The children are doing a "stations of the cross" called Walk with Jesus.”
Rev. Dan Hannon is excited about the All Night Prayer Walk hosted by Christ Church United Methodist, The Woodlands beginning Thursday, April 17 into Good Friday. Notes Dan, “This come and go, interactive, multi-sensory prayer walk guides the participant through stories of the journey of Jesus, leading to his betrayal and death.” 
The time parallels the Holy Week event when, after the Last Supper (recognized earlier at the Maundy Thursday Service at 7 p.m.), Jesus goes to the Garden of Gethsemane and invites his closest friends, the disciples, to "stay here and pray." Open all night in the Covenant Chapel, participants are invited to sacrifice sleep in some way as they re-walk these steps of Christ. The prayer walk ends on Good Friday at 9 a.m. to recognize the time in the morning when Jesus was crucified on the cross.
For Easter, Clear Lake UMC will have an outdoor sunrise service with a dramatic presentation of the women coming to the tomb, the men coming and then all five telling a group of 20 “He is Risen.”  The event will close with singing “In Christ Alone” followed by breakfast. Rev. Harold Travis is producing this special event with the help of scriptwriter Dr. Tony Collins and volunteers who are building the tomb and acting out the symbolic drama.
Music provides a special way to enrich Easter. St. Luke’s UMC, Houston is hosting a concert series including a noon communion service for Maundy Thursday. This symbolic event will feature"Return to Me" by Taylor Davis, presented by members of the Chancel Choir under the direction of Sid Davis, with Steven Wiggs, Cello. More Information
Helping Kids Relate to Easter
At St. Luke’s UMC, Houston, getting ready for Easter involves purchasing 14,000 plastic eggs. According to Children’s Ministry Director Julie Ellerbrock, “We have groups and families galore who volunteer to stuff them-- from United Methodist Women, to some of our LIFT teams, to Sunday School classes, to entire families doing it together, to moms opening up their homes for egg-stuffing parties.” The Palm Sunday picnic and egg hunt is a touchpoint with the local community. Outdoor activities include live music by The Encounter worship band, face painting, inflatables, a petting zoo, hot dogs and burgers and a cake walk. Additionally, St Luke’s Gethsemane campus has a picnic on Easter Sunday from 12:30 – 2:30 including an egg hunt, a sandwich bar, games, face painting and many more outdoor activities open to the community at no charge.
Adds Julie, “About 2500 of the eggs have been used for our Lenten Prayer Initiative.  It’s simple and fun, yet so powerful and glorifying!  Each Sunday throughout Lent, each child in Sunday School takes home a plastic Easter egg that has one piece of paper inside, which includes The Lord’s Prayer and a few names for which the child and his/her family will pray each day during that week. We encourage parents to pray with their child each day, beginning with The Lord’s Prayer, then asking for God’s blessings for the children listed.”  Each week children receive a new egg with new names, so that all of the children who are a part of the church family are prayed for daily throughout Lent. 
“We started this initiative about 4 years ago when the sermon series focused on The Lord’s Prayer,” Julie shares. “It has become a favorite for so many children and families.  The testimonies we receive -- from videos of the youngest 2 year old reciting The Lord’s Prayer from memory -- to children who create different ways to pray for their list of children, including the ones they received from the previous week, are moving and filled with great love.”
Lay Leader Blair Currey is thrilled with the way Grand Saline UMC is leveraging this season to bridge and connect the children in the preschool with the children in Sunday School. “Since Lent represents preparation for Easter, we let the kids plant bulbs in March in what we are calling our Resurrection Garden. Children will be encouraged to pick the flowers that are blooming by Easter and put them on our flower cross for the adults to also enjoy.”

Kid-friendly Easter Activities
For many years, families and children’s workers have made resurrection cookies or shared the jelly bean prayer or made jelly bean crafts to enhance the meaning of Easter with the wee ones.
The Jelly Bean Prayer
Red is for the blood He gave.
Green is for the grass He made.
Yellow is for the sun so bright.
Orange is for the edge of night.
Black is for the sins we made. 
White is for the grace He gave.
Purple is for His hour of sorrow.
Pink is for a new tomorrow.
And handful of jelly beans,
Colorful and sweet,
Is a prayer, a promise,
A loved one’s treat!
Happy Resurrection Sunday!
Resurrection Cookies provide a great way to teach children about Easter, involve parents and provide an outreach tool. When you make the cookies, you visually illustrate Jesus suffering, burial, death and resurrection. Because you are doing it with cookies, it is much less intimidating for people sharing about their faith as well as those whom don’t go to church. Each step has an accompanying Bible verse.
Resurrection Cookies
1 cup whole pecans
1 teaspoon vinegar
1 cup sugar
3 egg whites
pinch of salt
wooden spoon
zip lock bag
Preheat oven to 300F.  Place pecans in zip lock bag and let the children beat the pecans with the wooden spoon to break into small pieces.
Explain that after Jesus was arrested, he was beaten by the Roman Soldiers.
Read: John 19:1-3
Let each child smell the vinegar.  Put one teaspoon of vinegar into the mixing bowl.  Explain that when Jesus was thirsty on the cross he was given vinegar to drink.
Read: John 19:29-30
Add egg whites to the vinegar.  Eggs represent life.
Explain that Jesus gave His life to give us eternal life.
Read John 10:10-11
Sprinkle a little salt in each child's hand.  Let them taste it and put a pinch into the bowl.
Explain this represents the salty tears shed by Jesus' followers and the bitterness of our own sins.
Read Luke 23:7
So far the ingredients are not very appetizing.  Add 1 cup sugar.
Explain that the sweetest part of the story is that Jesus died because He loves us.  He wants us to know and and belong to him.
Read: John 3:16 and Psalms 34:8
Beat with a mixer on high speed for 12-15 minutes until stiff peaks are formed.  Explain that the color of white represents the purity in God's eyes of those whose sin have been cleansed by Jesus.
Read Isaiah 1:18 and John 3:1-3
Fold in the broken nuts.  Drop by teaspoons onto wax paper covered cookie sheets.
Explain that each mound represents the rocky tomb where Jesus' body was laid.
Read Matthew 27:57-60
Put the cookies in the oven, close the door and TURN OFF THE OVEN.  Give each child a piece of tape and seal the oven door.
Explain that Jesus' tomb was sealed.
Read Matthew 27:65-66
Explain that they might feel sad to leave the cookies in the oven overnight.  Jesus' followers were in despair when the tomb was sealed.
Read John 16:20 and 22
On Easter morning open the oven and give everyone a cookie.  Notice the cracked surface and take a bite.  Inside the cookie you'll find a small hollow hole.
Explain that on the Easter Jesus' followers were amazed to find the tomb open and empty.
Read Matthew 28:1-9
While this is just a tiny sampling of ideas churches are using to facilitate an enriching Easter season, maybe it will bring new meaning or inspire a new initiative in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, churches across the TAC are encouraged to post their Easter activities on the conference Facebook page for the benefit of others seeking ideas or a church home.