Local churches remain flexible during pandemic Easter Services

Local churches remain flexible during pandemic Easter ServicesBy LAURA QUEZADA

News Review Staff Writer

“Easter is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a recognition and celebration of that event and it is also the continued celebration of the New Day--the eighth day of creation,” says Reverend Wesley Elmore, Pastor of the Ridgecrest United Methodist Church (UMCRC). “We are celebrating the new creation and a new relationship God has with us in Jesus Christ. And Jesus is alive, He was dead and now He is alive.” “It is the remembrance, the deep remembering we do of a truly significant moment of history that people have celebrated and remembered generation after generation after generation,” adds Ralph Mueller, Pastor of the Ridgecrest Presbyterian Church (RPC).

“I am excited that we are going to have sunrise service again, I am looking forward to that,” says Elmore. “To be able to be outside, even though people will be spaced apart and masked, will actually feel like it was before.” Sunrise Service begins at 6 am on church propertyat 639 North Norma. RMCRC is not inside the building in worship yet. “At 10:30 am we will have our live stream on-line worship which we have been doing for over a year now. Last year because the shutdown came a few weeks before Easter, we just did one service live stream and sunrise service was canceled.” Mueller says, “Since we are in the red RPC is having an indoor service at 10 am at 633 West Las Flores. We have spaced the chairs around and there is potential for 30-plus people inside plus we will be live streaming the service.”

Both in-person services will have singing but no choirs. RMCRC has a core group of musicians: a pianist, guitarist and on alternate Sundays a flute or a clarinet. RPC music is led by pianist, Bob Huey. Both congregations will be encouraged to sing along.

Online services and live streaming are new for both of these pastors. Elmore says that live streaming to an empty room “took some getting used to. Since sound is important, everybody else in the room, musicians and the tech team are quiet because any sound that they do picks up and is a distraction. So there is no response. It was very different to me, it initially it felt very sterile.” Mueller took his cue from Mr. Rogers, “He would look into the camera and he had in his mind some of the children that would be watching. To me that was helpful.” Using this experience as a springboard he expanded his offerings, “I record daily reflections that are four to five minutes long at least six days a week.” There are links to these recordings at https://ridgecrestpc.org/, the church webpage.

Both pastors were able to stay in contact with their congregations through Zoom Bible studies, phone calls, e-mails. If a parishioner was near death from non-COVID causes, Ridgecrest Regional Hospital allowed the pastor and family to be with the dying.

“I am excited to do services again. Just be able to be together,” says Emore. “ I am looking forward to more people having the freedom to come and be together in person. There is a lot of pent up desire to be together and so this is one way to be together,” adds Mueller.

“We are inviting all who want to come. The doors are wide open,” says Ken Lewis, Lead Pastor, Church of the Nazarene. “Easter is one of the most celebrated if not the most celebrated time of year for the Christian church, so I have no desire whatsoever to limit anything that we do. We want our people to come and if they feel like they need to stand up in the back or in the foyer, then that is fine. We want people to feel comfortable. We want them to come.” Services begin at 10:30 am at 571 North Norma Street. “We will have singing.” The church has a Worship Team, musicians worshiping through music who engage the congregation in worshiping and singing with them. Lewis is part of the Worship Team and invites, “We are looking for musicians.”

Easter Sunrise Service begins at 6:15 am on church property at the intersection of College Heights Boulevard and Springer Avenue identified by a cross near the boulevard. At this location Lewis says, “We get the full effects of the sunrise. We have chairs or people bring their own chairs. We are there for 45 minutes to an hour. It is a great time, people love to come to it. We did it last year; most people stayed in their cars.”

Lewis and his team of pastors, Children & Family Life Pastor Stephanie, and Youth Pastor Steve, continued offering services in various settings during the pandemic. “When the whole thing came around keeping people from going inside churches we moved all of our stuff outside. The first few weeks we were online only. We have been doing online services for a few years now, so that wasn’t anything new for us. Being 100% online was new for us. We moved from that to having outdoor services, which was great until it started getting hot. Once it started getting warm the restrictions were loosened up a little so we went to two services for a little bit. That was good. Then we went back outside. And now we are 100% inside.”

The church is going back to their full program on May 2. “We are bringing back our Adult Sunday School Class, Bible studies on Sunday mornings, our kids Sunday school classes. We have a lot of people who are anxious to get back who are looking forward to coming back. We understand that there are some who are going to choose not to. Eventually we will see them.”

Pictured: Grace Lutheren Church Pastor Madson, announces Sunrise Service at 6:30 a.m. Sunday morning. - Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2021-04-02