Community finds ways to celebrate Easter amid virus
Many churches have closed their doors for services because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. But just because buildings are empty doesn’t mean there will be no Easter celebrations in Putnam County this weekend.
“We can no longer go to church and do church. We must be the church,” said the Rev. Karl Flagg, pastor of Mt. Tabor First Baptist Church of Palatka. “In other words, it’s never been about how fine and elegant our house of worship is. But, rather, it’s been about teaching and reaching each individual for the sake of reconciliation and restoration to God.”
Flagg said he prefers to refer to Easter Sunday as Resurrection Sunday.
“We must recognize our human temple as God’s created temple that’s in desperate need of transformation,” he said.
Christina Duke, secretary and member of First Baptist Church of Palatka, believes families should slow down and talk about Jesus and what he did for mankind, especially at Easter.
Duke and her husband do it in the form of their Resurrection Garden they received as a gift from their friend, Cynthia Adams, who put it together from a kit.
“She encouraged us to share it each year with our kids,” Duke said.
The Resurrection Garden involves using sticks made into crosses with hot glue guns, a terracotta tray, a small terracotta pot, a rock for the stone, grass seeds and small pebbles for the path.
“It focuses on the death and resurrection of Jesus,” Duke said. “It allows my kids to create this scene and use the opportunity to share with them about Jesus. It lets them have a visual of the three crosses and the tomb with the stone rolled away.”
Duke said it can be hard for kids to talk about death, but the Resurrection Garden allows her to have another avenue to illustrate Jesus’ love for them.
“Through his love and grace, he suffered and died for us even though we don’t deserve it,” she said. “The most important thing we can teach our children is that Jesus loves them and wants to have a relationship with them.’
Robin Robinson, general manager of 91.3 Hope FM Christian radio station, said pastors have had to become resourceful the last few weeks with the mandated self-distancing.
“Church-goers and the community rely heavily on their pastors’ leadership,” she said. “They have quickly adapted to leading services, studies and prayer meetings using online methods. Some have created drive-in-style services. I think it’s made us more intentional in connecting with others.”
Robinson said in past years, a typical Easter Sunday celebration would take place with people gathering at the riverfront for a sunrise service.
“This year we cannot do that,” she said. “So, instead, 91.3 Hope FM will provide special music and a message around the time of sunrise from 6:45–7:30 a.m. People can participate from home or even drive to the riverfront to watch the sunrise from their car. Wherever they are, they can listen in to take part in our stay-at-home service.”
Robinson added typically the sunrise service at the riverfront would be a time where an offering would be taken for the Palatka Christian Service Center.
“Without that service, they will miss out on that offering and it’s a big part of their budget,” she said. “I would love to encourage people who can to consider giving them a gift.”
Checks can be made out to the Palatka Christian Service Center and mailed to 2600 Peters St., Palatka, FL 32177. Gifts can also be made online at heartofputnam.com, clicking on the donate button. For details, call Sheila McCoy, the center’s executive director, at 328–0984 or email Sheila@heartofputnam.com.
For Pastor Ron Camarda of St. Monica Catholic Church in Palatka, the celebration of Lent, 40 days of prayer and fasting for the Easter season, began in February.
“On Ash Wednesday this year, five of our downtown ministers gathered for an Ecumenical service,” he said. “If you can believe it, we all preached for less than two minutes each and then we smeared ashes on each other’s foreheads.”
Camarda said more than 100 local residents in attendance came up to a minister different from their own and received ashes.
“We are dust and as dust, we shall return,” he said of the celebration. “It symbolizes turning away from sin and returning to the good news – the gospel of Jesus.”
Camarda said his church live streamed the Last Supper on Thursday and plans to live stream Stations of the Cross at 3 p.m. today and at 7 p.m. will hold Good Friday services. The church’s Easter vigil will begin 8 p.m. Saturday, which is the holiest night of the year for Catholics. Mass will be observed at 10 a.m. Sunday by live stream.
“We plan to baptize one of our members on Saturday,” he said. “Of course, social distance will be observed.”
Camarda said he gives Bible studies and reflections every day through live streaming. Many local churches are also live streaming their Easter services on Facebook.
“My expectation and hope is that this will be the best Easter ever and Good Friday might even be great,” he said. “We believe Jesus is probably awake in the boat telling us to be calm during this storm we are facing. He would never leave us alone.”