How to build a thriving community this Easter
By Lindsay Peyton
As COVID cases drop lower, and in-person church service resumes, this Easter marks the return to celebrating the good news with each other. Congregations in the Texas Annual Conference found creative ways during the pandemic to keep Easter alive. Now, churches are finding the festivities they started in the face of COVID concerns are worth maintaining. These innovative Easter events provide an avenue for evangelism, fellowship and fun.
Wildwood UMC in Magnolia is bringing Easter celebrations to the community with #EggThyNeighbor. The concept is the brainchild of Jessica McMullen, minister of children and families. The church started what has become a tradition last year.
The first order of business is collecting plastic eggs. Executive Pastor Deanna Young says already the church has already gathered about 6,000. Small groups at the church made collecting the eggs a competition.
On March 30, volunteers from the congregation met to stuff the eggs with candy and toys. Members enjoyed dinner and fellowship together, while concentrating on the task at hand. “We get an assembly line going,” Young said.
Then on Palm Sunday, April 10, Wildwood UMC hosted a chili and cookie cook-off after service. At that time, congregation members were invited to grab a bag filled with stuffed eggs.
Young explained that church members hide the eggs in their neighbors’ and friends’ yards, leaving the bag on their door handle, with instructions and an invitation to the church. It’s a great way to reach out to families with children, the pastor said. “And even if you don’t have any kids, it’s still fun,” she added.
#EggThyNeighbor was created last Easter, when things were beginning to open up again, Young said. She knew the time was ripe to invite residents back to church. “Maybe people would be more open to come out,” she said. “And we wanted to remind them that we were here.”
In addition to serving as evangelism, #EggThyNeighbor demonstrates the church’s close ties with the community. “It’s just a way to bless our friends and neighbors,” Young said. “This is just about loving thy neighbor.”
Festival in the Front Yard
Easter planning began at FUMC Nacogdoches right after Christmas ended. After all, the church’s annual Spring Fling Easter Festival in Nacogdoches is a big deal – one of four main outreach activities for the community.
All are welcome to attend the festivities from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, April 16 on the congregation’s front lawn at 201 E Hospital Street.
The Nacogdoches 4H will bring bunnies to pet. Bounce houses, a dunking booth, activities, games and snacks round out the entertainment.
“And of course, the Easter Bunny is there,” Senior Pastor Dr. Nathan Hodge said.
The Easter Egg hunt will be a bit different this time around. Some of the eggs will contain gift certificates to Chick-fil-Aand other spots around town or small toys and gadgets. “We’ll still have plenty of candy too,” Hodge added.
The Spring Fling was actually born out of the pandemic. “The only thing we felt that we could do was an outdoor event like this,” Hodge said. “And now we’ve decided to keep it.”
After the past two successful years, this will be the third Easter festival for the church. “It’s one of the ways we do to get on our front porch,” Hodge said.
He explained that congregations can become too focused on what is happening inside their four walls and events can cater mostly to church members. “We’ve been really trying to get out of that rhythm – and into a new rhythm of inviting our community,” he said.
Visitors often feel more comfortable stepping onto campus for the first time, where they can meet the pastor and the congregation members, at more casual community-wide events, Hodge explained. “Maybe coming into church on a Sunday feels too intimidating,” he said. “But doing something like this helps people get comfortable.”
During the Easter festival, Hodge invites guests to return the next day for services. “Every year, we just have a great time,” he said.
Children host Easter Fest
Easter Fest at Lake Houston UMC is scheduled from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 16 at the church, 23606 FM 2100 in Huffman. Pastor Russell Martin explained that this is far from the typical Easter Egg event.
Instead, the church has adapted the Trunk-or-Treat style reserved normally for Halloween and Fall Festivals. Only now, members will pop their trunks, decorated for Easter, and hand out treat-filled eggs to children with their baskets.
It’s known as Trunk-or-TrEASTER. The idea was born out of the pandemic, Martin explained, when an egg hunt seemed too risky. “We wanted to do one, but there were safety concerns,” he said.
The pastor began brainstorming ways to celebrate the holiday, while staying more socially distanced than the typical hunt would allow. At first, he admitted to being skeptical about Trunk-or-TrEASTER.
But the more Martin thought about it, the more it made sense. “If you show up late for an egg hunt, you won’t get anything,” he said. “It all happens so quickly.”
This idea, on the other hand, would allow the church to have more of a block party, which would foster building relationships with neighbors. “With this, there is no rush,” Martin said.
Last year was such a success, that Lake Houston UMC decided to stick with the Trunk-or-TrEASTER this time around. There will be food trucks on site, community service booths, goodie bags for the first 200 children and a free prize drawing for kids bicycles. The event is sponsored by the church’s Children’s Ministry.
With fun family events, church happens outside over laughs and good conversation, Martin explained. The joyous occasion allows the community an easy way for newcomers to walk onto campus for the first time. The pastor will invite guests back for Easter services the next day.
Everyone is invited to join in the Trunk-or-TrEASTER. Martin hopes neighbors will seize the opportunity to meet each other. “That’s what we’re trying to do – to connect people to God and to each other,” he said.