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Churches focus on message of Easter, prepare for influx

Several Auburn churches holding Easter services and events
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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Local churches may be observing Easter in a variety of ways, but agree that celebrating its central message — the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ — has historically drawn in more people to their churches than on any other Sunday of the year. Some church leaders in the community say they are adding extra services in preparation for the influx of attendees on Easter, while others are planning services to help their members better connect with its significance. Pastor Bryon Hansen of Bethlehem Lutheran Church said he believes Easter brings more people through the doors because it is a core foundation of Christianity. His church holds its service beginning with Maundy Thursday and running through Easter Sunday. “Because Easter is so central to the Christian identity and faith I see people who return to church who haven’t been for a while,” Hansen said. “I also think people who are seekers or newcomers tend to come at this time because there is a sense that this is critical to the Christian identity.” Hansen said he typically sees double the amount of people on Easter Sunday as usual. He said he looks forward to baptizing new believers and there is always a sense of personal transformation throughout the week of the Easter rituals. Pastor Cedric Lee, of Celebration Church in Auburn, said Easter is pivotal to the Christian faith. “Easter really is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. Without the resurrection there really is no Christian faith. It is the thing that sets Christianity apart from every other religion or world philosophy,” Lee said. While people may celebrate Easter in a variety of ways, Lee said his church always seeks to draw congregants back to the central focus on the resurrection. LouAnn Lee, worship pastor for Celebration Church and Cedric Lee’s wife, said the message of Easter is all about God’s love for humanity. She said the Easter message translates into her life throughout the year. “A lot of people think God is angry at them or that he wants to punish them, but that’s not why he came. He came to help them with their lives,” Lee said. “Life to me doesn’t work without God. It’s why I have a great marriage. It’s why I have a great relationship with my kids.” At Auburn Grace Community Church, Pastor Phil Sparling said he adds an additional service so that entire families can attend the first part of the service together. “We generally grow by 30 percent on Easter Sunday, but then that equals out to about 15 percent growth following,” Sparling said. On Thursday, Auburn Grace held a 24-hour pray day, where members could stop to pray for the needs of others in shifts. He said historically the Christian faith believes Jesus Christ was the only one to ever raise himself from the dead, demonstrating his deity and power to transform lives. At St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Auburn, Father Brian Atienza said a variety of rituals help his members connect with Easter, including serving each other by washing each other’s feet, the Eucharist and the stations of the cross. Atienza said while attendance at Easter services is higher than average, in reality the Church celebrates the message of Easter all year long. “There is a significant change in attendance during this time of year because we do highlight it as the high point of our year, so a lot of people do find the importance of being here for the Easter services,” Atienza said. “Although, we would like them to be reminded that we do celebrate Easter somewhat throughout the year every time we celebrate the mass.” Atienza said with some of the difficulties people face in life, they may feel like they are experiencing some of the same feelings Jesus felt on his journey to the cross. He said learning about Jesus’ resurrection can bring hope to people. “Nowadays when a lot of people feel like they are going through their passion, it’s always good to be reminded that there is always the resurrection,” Atienza said. Reverend Romy Valsco, senior pastor of the Gold Country United Methodist Parish said he believes Jesus’ death and resurrection give his believers hope that they too will be resurrected after death. His churches hold a sunrise service at Meadow Vista Community Park. He said the service is held in the morning to remind people of the morning Jesus’ tomb was empty, as described in the Bible. “I would like to tell the people that it is not just a worship tradition, but it is a worship experience,” Valsco said. “Those women went to look for that dead body, but the tomb was empty. There was no body there. It was empty. Having this sunrise service is a reenactment of that first Easter morning.” Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com, or follow her on Twitter @AJ_News.